NEWS RELEASE: Governor Mead's Office
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – At his monthly news conference Governor Matt Mead discussed issues ranging from creating a system of success in Wyoming schools to the state budget and to gun regulations.
In discussing schools, Governor Mead cited a leading report on state education systems, which ranked Wyoming number one for school financing. It showed Wyoming spends almost the most per student in the country and pays teachers among the most of any state. "Wyoming is on the right track in terms of our commitment to education. We recognize the value of education and we put a lot of money into education. We have excellent school buildings and we have excellent teachers."
This same report showed Wyoming is in the middle of the pack when it comes to achievement and progress. Education Week's Quality Counts rated Wyoming 27th for achievement and was ranked 33rd for graduation rate.
"I think we have made some gains," Governor Mead said, but noted we do not want to remain in the middle of the pack. "The Legislature is trying to address the question of do we have the best structure available for success." Lawmakers and Governor Mead started work on a new system of accountability two years ago. Governor Mead said this system should help schools and districts that are struggling by providing guidance on how they can improve.
The State Board of Education is starting the search for a permanent Director of the Department of Education. Governor Mead said he will support the Board in its work and believes the position is a critical one.
The House and Senate are currently reviewing the supplemental budget for Fiscal Year 2014. Governor Mead said he and legislators are fairly close on most budget issues. He said he proposed reductions beyond what lawmakers asked for last year and hopes that in the future his proposal to keep some savings in a liquid account versus putting everything possible into the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund will gain support.
"When you put all the money into the Permanent Fund you are taking it out of the Wyoming economy and putting it into someone else's economy," Governor Mead said. He noted that the money is invested in the markets, which are still volatile. If the markets go down then the money in the Permanent Fund is lost, as is the opportunity to invest in roads and bridges around the state. "There is inherent value in infrastructure projects that regardless of market, regardless of these volatile times we continue to build Wyoming," Governor Mead said.
Currently 2.5% percent of severance taxes go into the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund (PMTF). Of that percentage, 1.5% are constitutionally directed and 1% are statutorily directed. Governor Mead is proposing that the statutory 1% of the revenue instead go into an account called the "Rainy Day Account" that can used in tough fiscal times. Governor Mead said both the PMTF and the Rainy Day Account are valuable to Wyoming and this is not an either or option.
"I am in favor of building up the Rainy Day savings to allow us some flexibility and weather whatever storms may come," Governor Mead said.
Governor Mead also expressed concern that the Legislature has not supported his proposal to put $60 million towards fighting wildfires. Wyoming had a record fire season in 2012 and Governor Mead wants to put money aside to ensure the state is prepared if 2013 is equally bad.
In the wake of the school shooting in Connecticut and the murder at Casper College, Governor Mead has put together a task force that will provide recommendations on school safety. Governor Mead said the task force is looking at School Resource Officers and how Wyoming can make school buildings safer, especially as Wyoming builds new schools. He said making schools safer is where the focus should be right now. Governor Mead said he has concerns about arming teachers.
Governor Mead also expressed concern about possible federal gun regulations. He said like many in Wyoming he owns guns that some are considering banning. "I don't like the national message that if you are an owner of those types of guns you are on the shady side of things. I do not think that is true in Wyoming. I think one of the hallmarks of Wyoming is that we are a gun state and our gun owners are lawful and responsible," Governor Mead said.
Governor Mead said House Bill 104 is not the best way to express frustration with possible federal regulations. Critics of the bill say it is an unenforceable law. "If we want to send messages we can do that, if we want to hold a press conference we can do that. But, the message I want to send is we are a great and proud gun state and we follow the law," Governor Mead said.