Paul Fees on the Issues
In Wyoming, there is a great deal more that unites Republicans and Democrats than divides them. For one thing, we all believe strongly in the importance of representational democracy. Local politics must reflect the issues that those of us in the community agree we need to deal with. It is important for your state representative to know what concerns the people of Park County and how their concerns can be addressed at the state level. And it is especially important that your representative listen to all local voices, regardless of party.
The greatest good the State of Wyoming can do for its citizens is to assure access to the best possible education. The framers of the State Constitution understood the necessity of public education for citizenship, individual growth, and economic innovation and prosperity. In these difficult times, the legislature has the means -- so-called "rainy day" investments -- to provide full funding for the state's public schools, colleges, and university. Everyone between the ages of 18 and 25 deserves the best education this state can afford. That's what those funds were intended for!
Health care & Medicaid Expansion
Thousands of people lost jobs in Wyoming as the latest energy boom began to bust -- more than 5500 in coal mining alone. Other businesses suffered as the energy money dried up. How did our legislature react? First, education (and retraining) got the axe. Second, the most vulnerable people in the state lost access to health care. The Wyoming Department of Health was forced to cut $90 million from its budget. The result is to "freeze enrollment in treatment for disabled people," as the headlines report. Dental care is off the charts for the unemployed and the poor. And the cuts cost the state $41 million in matching Federal funds. To add insult to the injuries already suffered by the unemployed and the poor, the legislature refused $268 million in Federal funds to expand Medicaid insurance coverage to 20,000 of Wyoming's most needy citizens. Just who does our state government represent?
Wyoming justly takes pride in being the first state to recognize the right of women to vote. We are, after all, “The Equality State.” But it has become Wyoming’s not-so-secret shame that by most measures, we are at the bottom of the rankings in wage equality. Too many of our children live in poverty. And we lag behind most of the other states in many issues critical to the well-being of women including access to health care. Not all of these problems can be solved by legislation alone, but state government can and must lead the way to solutions.
One of the most important obligations of government is the creation and preservation of our infrastructure -- water systems, sewers, roads and streets, storm drains, bridges, and other public needs. Deferred maintenance is more expensive in the long run than upgrading and fixing the things that need fixing. Park County and the City of Cody have tightened belts, shrunk staff, and put off what can be put off. But as income from energy extraction continues to decline, the state must help the city and county identify other sources of revenue. Public safety and our quality of life are at stake.
ISSUES SPECIFIC TO WYOMING AND THE WEST
In 1890, when Wyoming became the 44th state, the citizens of the other 43 states agreed to relinquish their share in the ownership of millions of acres granted to the new state. The state has since sold off more than 700,000 acres to private interests. Thirty million acres of the public domain continue to be owned by the United States and managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the Department of Defense, and by the National Park Service. The strength of the state's economy, the well-being of its citizens, and the health of the public lands in Wyoming are enhanced by the Federal Government's stewardship.
Coal and Economic Diversity
Many people in Wyoming assert that the Obama administration “killed” the coal industry. But the truth is that the decline of coal is a result of free market forces. The regulations that supposedly devastated the industry won’t even take effect until 2018! With at least 8 years to prepare, our legislature has chosen instead to rely on wishful thinking. Coal mining will continue to be an important -- though smaller -- part of the state’s economy. And in fact this crisis may be a blessing in disguise, because Wyoming must move without delay to invest in technological innovation and a sustainable, more diversified economy.