Wyoming PBS – Wyoming Perspectives
Live with Governor Matt Mead – Feb. 4, 2016
Craig Blumenshine, Wyoming PBS: We're live with Governor Matt Mead, One on One with the Governor, next on Wyoming Perspectives.
Across the 24th Street from Wyoming's grand old State Capitol in Cheyenne, with its lofty gold leaf dome, is a less descript, but now no less-important, revitalized, historic mansion. The last mansion remaining on the Cattle Baron Row is the Idleman Mansion. Mox and his brother, Abe, started what would become a very successful liquor business soon after the founding of the city. The Idleman Saloon and Hotel was built down town in 1882, and the Idleman mansion was built the next year. For decades, the home, facing Carey Avenue, served the community as a mortuary or the people's house.
The capitol across the street and the adjacent Herschler Building are getting new legs in the Capitol Square renovation, a $300-million project that's now underway. The Idleman Mansion is now serving as the home to Wyoming's top executive. While Governor Mead's space in the capitol is empty, waiting now for the craftsmen to bring the capitol back to life, he's taken his office and staff to the old, but renovated Idleman Mansion along with an oil painting, Potter's Bulls, by Thomas Mesker that's dated 1885. That's where we are tonight as we begin our live one-on-one discussion with Wyoming Governor Matt Mead.
Governor Mead, welcome. Our viewers at home now are taking a look at this beautiful Mesker painting. Tell us a little bit more about its history before we begin with our Q&A tonight.
Governor: It's called Potter's Bulls. It's probably my favorite piece of artwork that first had over in the governor's office, and I was fortunate enough to get it over here as well. It was originally painted in the 1600s and then repainted. This one is a little different than the original, but it hung in the Cheyenne Club, which used to be known before the Cheyenne Club as the Cactus Club.
One of the members there at the Cheyenne Club, this is pre-statehood, looked at that picture, one that apparently probably after having a taste or two and became incensed that the animals standing there or the bull was not a true bred, so he announced that we shouldn't have to have that on our ranges and took out his .45 Long Colt and took a shot and then took another shot. It's an interesting story because, then, he was shortly informed after that that he was kicked out of the club.
My story is, back in that time period, I don't know if he was kicked out because he shot the painting there because he didn't want any poor shots in the Cheyenne Club, because he obviously missed the bull and hit the other animal there, but it even goes further than that because a lady in this office did some research on it. The guy that shot that actually was close friends apparently with Tom Horn and even put together a total of about $100,000 for his defense. Obviously, we know the end of that story. Mr. Colby, who was the guy that shot this, left the state after that and went south and, several years later, ended up committing suicide.
The painting in itself I think shows those early days, those territory days before we were a state, some history about the Cheyenne Club and then, when it incorporates the Tom Horn story, which is so well-known in the state, is just a very interesting painting. I love having it in the office. I really enjoyed having it at the governor's office and be able to share that with 4th graders and other students that came in and adults as well. I think people are always interested in Wyoming history in that way.
Craig: You are in your temporary office, if you will. We're going to talk about the Capitol Square Project I am sure a bit later, but we appreciate, Governor, your willingness to take our viewers' questions tonight.
Governor: I'm glad to do them.
Craig: There is another caricature painting in your office that is about being a governor, and that it is like riding a bronc. It's full of ups and downs. I think it's a wonderful metaphor to describe your tenure as a governor, initially, at a time of good fiscal prosperity, if you will, and, now, at a time of austerity. That's the budget we're facing right now that you've given to the legislature. What guided you, Governor, when you put that budget together? What are the principles that were really in the back of your mind as you tried to set Wyoming up for its future?
Governor: There was a lot of things. The first is a recognition that the history of Wyoming [and its service as well 00:04:48] is we are fiscally conservative. You over the last 5 years how that has paid off. The fact of the matter is the government, the size of our city government has been flat. We actually have a little fewer employees now than when I took office. We've consolidated agencies. We reduced rules and regulations and, at the same time, we have grown our permanent fund by over 55% and we've grown our rainy day fund almost double that at about $1.8 billion.
As I put my budget together, what I wanted to do was, one, that we have to be fiscally responsible. Cuts are needed. There is no question about it when you look at oil and gas and coal in particular. We have to make some cuts, but we also can't just go in a death spiral. The rainy day fund, by its name, suggests to me that it's an opportunity for us to use that to level off these peaks and valleys that we see when you get 70% of your revenue from minerals, and so I proposed last session, I said in my State of the state, "We need to define this, the rainy fund and what are its uses, what are the parameters."
That wasn't done, and so what my budget did is take the initiative, borrow money from the rainy day fund with a plan, in 2 years, to pay it back with moneys that ordinarily would go into the permanent fund. The theory behind that is I think people understand we have to tighten our belt. I don't think they're going to understand that, at the same time, where [JAC 00:06:19] currently is where you're nursing homes, when you're cutting your early childhood development literacy programs, that we're growing savings as if we were in very [flush 00:06:30] times. I don't think they'll accept that. I think they will accept the use and the paying back the rainy fund, to smooth out. We'll make cuts, but we want to be smooth as possible without starting and stopping some of these programs and some of the things we want to do in terms of diversifying and building our economy in the state.
We'll see where it ends up. JAC has more work to do. They have a very difficult job where they are now, obviously, have some big disagreements, but I think the public rightfully should be asking as I am what is the rainy day fund for. The last 5 of 6 CREG reports have all been downgraded. That hasn't happened before, so, if it's not raining now, I don't know what would cause it to be declared raining because I think it certainly is raining in our state, and we need to act in a proactive fashion to deal with them.
Craig: Governor, I think, too, what viewers are wondering and people across Wyoming is this really the tip of the iceberg? It's a different state for energy now in Wyoming. It was wonderful that we paid a $1.49 today when we filled up. It was also not good for the state that we paid a $1.49 when we filled up with gas. Is this the tip of the iceberg? Is this state set up now for the long term if energy remains where it is today?
Governor: The answer to your question is, when you get 70% of your revenue from minerals, if energy prices stay where they are now for the next 20 years, we've got to have a serious course change. There's no question about it. I think that I feel safe, and the experts that I talked to feel safe oil and gas prices are going to come back, but it is a global commodity and there's things that we can't change in terms of the prices. When you have OPEC making the decisions they're making, Saudi Arabia making the decisions they make as part of OPEC, and you see the world economy in any condition, that has an effect on both.
In addition to that, because of good old ingenuity and innovation here in America, we're reaching gas that nobody even thought about 10 years ago, and there's a glut of natural gases on the market. If those things are correct, it will take time. Those will come back. Your question is if it doesn't change. I think those, too, will change.
The one I have greater concern about, and it's so relevant in terms of education of our kids, is coal. We see the great reserves of coal that we have in the state and how well it's served the state and this country for many years. We also see the regulations that have been coming out of Washington, the Mercury Rule, the Clean Power Plant, the Regional Haze Rule, all of which we are fighting for not just Wyoming, but those good men and women who are in the mining business because it's so important for them as well. If we continue down this trend with the next administration of putting a target on coal, that is going to have serious repercussions in terms of how we fund education because coal is the funder of education. There is just no way around it.
In addition to that, it's helped to keep our competitive with low energy cost, and so I have great concerns about coal. We're fighting that. We're looking at [the ports 00:09:41]. We're talking to other countries on any way we can help that issue. Coal is a greater concern. Oil and gas I'm confident will come back. Coal we've got a lot of work to do.
Craig: The State of Wyoming has put a lot of resources into the University of Wyoming and clean coal technology. To use a sports metaphor, they need to win soon it seems like, that they're under the gun as well. Can clean coal work, and can the University of Wyoming be a leader, and what's the time table that they really need to have success or the research needed to have success in order to allow coal to survive, if you will?
Governor: Yeah. I'm confident. I don't only think they can. I think they should be a leader, and I think they will be a leader because, when you look at where that ... what's some of the work they have done, for example, when I came into office, they were looking at the High Plains Gasification project to gasify Powder River coal. That was a project that we had along with GE. GE pulled out because they weren't certain about this administration's view in terms of coal. Now, what they're looking at is not only those type of things, but they're looking at coal not to burn for thermal energy, but the components that make up coal, each one of those components has value, each one of those components could be used for feedstock, for different types of substances.
I think that is exactly what they should be working on. The money invested in UW to make that happen is absolutely worth it. On top of that, as you know, Craig, I'm just so pleased about the Integrated Test Center up in Campbell County on the Dry Fork Station because we're looking at a different way of taking the [inaudible 00:11:16] coal-fired plant, seeing what that could be used for, because we can't capture and store CO2. We were the first state to have CO2 capture laws on the books, but how you really make that work is what are you going to do with the CO2? We know it can be used for enhanced oil recovery, but can you make graphene out of it? Can you make other petrochemicals out of it? Can it be a feedstock for compounds that you will use for building materials?
That and what's happening in the University of Wyoming I think goes with the corresponding benefit we get from coals, I think we also have the corresponding responsibility to be a leader in finding solutions for coal.
Craig: Governor, I want to remind our viewers that we're your questions. You can email those questions to us using the email address, Meadquestions@wyomingpbs.org. You can also call 1-800-495-9788. You can also use Twitter using the hashtag MeadQuestions. We will review those questions in real time here and we'll try to get to as many questions to the governor as we possibly can tonight.
Here is the first. It's from a viewer named Sheryl. She wants to ... Can you expand a little bit more on the use of the rainy day fund? I want to quote her. In her question, she says, "Does not the welfare of the citizens of the state outweigh the extremely conservative view of the legislature? The citizens who will remain have been here for the good and, through their hard work, have build this rainy day fund. Isn't now the time to support them in return?" Give me your thoughts about that.
Governor: I think it's well said. I think I couldn't say it any better. I mean, it is that rainy day fund does not belong to the executive branch and it doesn't belong to the legislative branch. It belongs to the people of Wyoming. She is exactly right. It's not me and the legislature that have put the dollars in there. It's the citizens of Wyoming that have put the dollars in it. When you see where some of the JAC has done its work and cutting, for example, the senior center, the nursing homes, we cannot propose. We're going to continue to build up the rainy day fund and we're going to shut down the senior centers.
Now, I'm not suggesting anybody is saying that, but if you don't use what the rainy fund provides for us, some of those things are going to become realities. The senior centers, last summer we had 2 close calls in Carbon County and Sweetwater County where emergency action was ... we had to take because they were talking about busting people, seniors out of those places across the state or even out of the state to try to get care, so I think her question illustrates very well what I am trying to do with the rainy day fund during this downtrend.
Craig: Questions about taxes, Governor, under any circumstances, when you look at new revenues, would you suggest that the tax on groceries be reinstated?
Governor: I don't think it's the time to raise taxes. Again, everything is in context. When you're ... we're engaging in this process of remodeling the capitol, when we're looking at projects at UW, supporting athletics project in Casper, a state building here in Cheyenne, we have a rainy day fund at $1.8 billion, and we would continue to grow that at a healthy rate if we don't change what the law is and, at the same time, you're going to say we're raise taxes on people, I don't think that's salable.
Now, when it's comes to education, we are facing a structural deficit in a very short period of time. I've heard from legislators who are interested in visiting that issue, but I think this is the wrong time. This session is the wrong time for us to do that. I'm not in favor of it, and I'm going to say that in my State of the State, I don't think this is the times for our state to be raising taxes when we have the funding that we have, the savings that we have, and we're still doing those types of things, that you wouldn't be doing if you're at the point you need put additional burden on our citizens and those industries which largely pay those taxes.
Craig: I want to ask you 1 more question about taxes understanding what you just said. Last year, you told me that you would consider it a fair question as to the question of the entire State of Wyoming benefits from its community colleges and only 7 counties paying our community college tax. Was that ever considered expanding a statewide assessment to fund community colleges?
Governor: I don't believe that that, over the last year, was considered, but I don't know that I would change my statement from last year. I think the community colleges are a huge benefit to all of Wyoming. We've neve quite got the funding model right in terms of who pays and who ... versus who gets the benefit because everyone benefits from it. The legislature now, hopefully now and certainly historically, has I think been very supportive of our community colleges. You see the community colleges even now are accepting a model that means less money for them, but it's based upon enrollment primarily, and they're willing to go with that model and so, even during this time where that model said a reduction of about 1.5% for them, they said, "Well, that is the model we agreed to," and so I think our community colleges have really accepted where they are, accepted this downturn and are ready to go with the ups and downs as the state is.
Craig: Governor, we used a lot of different methods to get viewer questions. We, obviously, use our broadcast. We're out on social media.
Governor: I impressed how we got a question live there. You're high tech, Craig. I like it.
Craig: We have a lot, Governor, believe me, but one of the most commented on projects is the Capitol Square Project. Treasurer Gordon, as you know, wrote a beautiful piece about his final days in the capitol. Now, I want you to comment on 1 thing that he said. He said, "Considering Wyoming's financial woes, legislative notion, and the legitimate question of whether we can afford the full extent of the planned Capitol Square Project, it is unclear when or whether we will all return to the capitol neighborhood."
Now, in context, he might have been talking about whether or not the treasurer, the secretary of state and the auditor would be in the capitol. Governor, a $300-million project, last year, you told our viewers you weren't sure that ... the state wasn't sure yet what the $300 million was buying. Do we know today and has there been discussions to scale that project back or at least scale back the Herschler Building, the adjacent building to the capitol, scale back the reconstruction work that's planned there.
Governor: Yeah. Let me just back up a little bit. I think that, to your question, "Do we know what the $300 million is going to get in terms of the capitol and the Herschler?" I think the answer is yes. This last year, I think we have straightened out in terms of the architects and the consultants, and I think we have a very good team in place. We have a very good idea of what it would look like.
The second part of your question is, "Can you decouple the capitol project from the Herschler project?" One of the challenges I think particularly for the legislature as they'd looked at the capitol, one of the reasons they have planned I think for 15 years for this project is that they were having meetings, committee meetings, and they didn't have room for the public to participate and so, when as they looked at moving into the Herschler and the changes that would need to be made in the capitol and the Herschler, a decision was made that that is a good place to have larger meeting rooms, committee rooms.
It has been, the other part of your question, it has been discussed and has been discussed in oversight committee "is there an opportunity to decouple those." I think it maybe hard to do, but I certainly think during the session that this going to that it's going to be asked many times, "How do you go about it and then," if you do that, "what money have you already sunk in to the project on the Herschler side that you're not going to get out?" I don't know what that number is, but that number I think has been asked for, "What would we lose if we stop that project?" and then, secondly, "What are we going to do with the Herschler," which has its own issues in terms of the [skin on 00:19:29] the building in terms of wiring and plumbing and heating and even just the general usage of it.
You can go back and look a decade at a time and say, "When was the time to do this?" It's easy to look back retroactively and say, oh, here, it's 3 to 4 years, but, proactively, it was more difficult to do that. I think that the legislature, in looking at it and what they passed, I think they said, "Well, let's bite the bullet. It needs to be done. Let's get them both done," but I will say in this context where we have shrinking revenues, where, apparently, there's a view that we've got to not fund local government to the degree I want, not fund highways to the degree we want, everything's in context and, if we're going to build a $300-million renovation that involves 2 critical buildings to the state, but we're not going to take care of needs like local government's highways, early childhood development, it takes it out of the context where we headed into this ... when we got this program started.
Craig: Give us a feel for how this debate will migrate it way through the legislature this year. Will it be just a matter of individual legislators bringing up changes? Will it be discussion at a different level? How are you going to express your leadership with this project?
Governor: I'm going to start with the State of the State, just putting ... I think it's important for all of us to have the context of where we are now and that it's 1 thing in flush times to have some of the great projects on the slate to go ahead, but, when you're cutting things that I think are critical for the citizens of Wyoming, I think we all have to look at "there's got to be a balance there." I think we're all going to be subject appropriately to very good questions about what is the balance not just with the state capitol and the Herschler Building, but the office building that we've been working on, proposed office building in Casper, the office building for forestry here, what we're trying to do with the science initiative over at UW, which is a great program. All of those things are going to be looked at when you got a crunch time and it looks like you're not going to be able to fund some essential services for seniors or for our kids.
Craig: We'll move on, Governor, with these questions submitted via Facebook from a viewer named Lindy. She talks about Medicaid. You recommended Medicaid in your budget. You recommended it last year. Her question is, "How are, how will you now encourage the legislators to look at your, to put your recommendations for Medicaid expansion back into the budget?" As a follow up, you told me last year that you didn't want doughnut holes to appear in the Wyoming's health system where some citizens' healthcare and others may not be based on geographically where they live. What's your plan with Medicaid now that the JAC essentially by a [close call 00:22:22] said no again?
Governor: We're going to keep after it. When you asked a question about Medicaid, there's a lot that goes to it. I would just say it was 5 year ago. I stood in front of the legislature and said, "I don't think it's a good bill, and we're going to fight it," and we did. We lost legally, and the Supreme Court lost otherwise legally. We've lost that political battle. We have hospitals with about $200 million in uncompensated care. We have between 18,000 and $20,000 people without insurance. We're the only state in the Union where the number of insured has increased since the passage of the ACA.
Wyoming business and Wyoming people are paying for this Medicaid expansion, but we're saying no to them. They don't have a pot of money back in D.C. that says, "Oh, we're going to collect this for Wyoming," and then, when they say yes, it goes to ... it's going to Colorado or California to pay for their healthcare. I don't have to like the ACA and the legislature doesn't have to like the ACA, but when we are in the process, it looks like, of trying to find $33 million more general fund money to cover the fact that we're taking Medicaid, that's a hard pill I think for the citizens to swallow.
Strategically, we're meeting with groups, for example, Blue Cross Blue Shield, which is in favor of this. They're a private insurance company. They think this is a good idea. The Wyoming Association of Municipalities, the Wyoming Business Alliance, these are groups that have come together last year, and we were coalescing them again this year to try to make the case that you don't have to like this, that we can hope for improvements, we can all pursue significant changes in this plan.
My job is to make the railroads run on time in the world that we live in. I can't put our hopes of whoever that next president is going to be, and if you know who it is, I'd like you to me, that all of this is just going to go away. I can't put that hope on the 20,000 that are uninsured, and I can't put it on our business citizens who are paying for this already, but we're not getting the benefit of it.
We have small hospitals that are operating on a 90 days cash. If things go under, they create those doughnut holes to healthcare, which is not just a healthcare issue, it's an economic issue. Good luck keeping business, let alone recruiting businesses to your small town if the message is, if your son or daughter gets hurt and you got to get in the pickup in January and drive a 100 miles for treatment, that's just not going to work, and when they will shut down, if people don't drive that 100 miles in Wyoming, they drive that 50 miles outside of Wyoming and build up the health sector in the surrounding states, causing us to even have further loss of good doctors and physicians and nurses that provide healthcare now. It is a serious issue.
With regard to legislature, part of their message is going to be "it's fair not to like this." I don't like it, but it's not fair to say, "We're not going to find a solution." If you don't want to do this, what is your solution to address the uncompensated care, this challenge for these hospitals, the 20,000 people and the budget shortfall that we're facing?
Craig: The perspective we hear the most, Governor, is that the people will take advantage of Medicaid. They said that we don't believe the federal government will reimburse. What is the [inaudible 00:25:58]?
Governor: I hear "we're worried that people will take advantage." We don't feel like we got to involve ourselves in a government program to support somebody's who's laying on the couch every day watching TV. The fact of the matter is the majority of those people who would benefit from this are working people. The other thing, the way the law is set up, people between 100% of the poverty level and 400%, they can get on the exchange now. They already can do that. It's the people below a 100% that are caught in the lurch now. It's those at the lowest poverty rates that can't get on. It's not this notion that they're just free-loaders out there and they're going to be advantage of the situation. I don't think that is true.
In terms of the federal money, that's an interesting one to me because, look at every state agency, it's hard to find a state agency that doesn't get federal money. If you look at the Department of Transportation or the Department of Correction, the Department of Education, they all receive vast amounts of federal money. We don't say, "Hey, we're not going to go for it with a plan for education because we receive federal money and we're afraid they're going to renege on the deal." We can say, "Listen, if you're worried about that, put in the law that we're going to do this if and until the federal government reneges on them at that moment, that moment in time, then we're out and we stop the program."
Craig: That argument didn't fly last year?
Governor: Nope, it didn't fly last year, but things have change since last year, which is I don't think the hospitals have gotten in any better condition. We have more uninsured. When you're not taking Medicaid and at the same time, because you're not having to take $33 million out of other agencies, whether it's nursing homes or early childhood development or highways or local government, that I think is another very important criteria for us to be considering at this time.
Craig: Regardless it's a tall hurdle now?
Governor: It is.
Craig: You all need to find a sponsor of a bill that will need two-thirds support even to become debated. Do you expect it to happen? Do you know?
Governor: I guess if you, from what I hear, there's no question, Craig, it's going to be a tough fight, but I am not going to gauge whether I participate in it or not as to whether I have a guarantee of success. I'm gauging whether I participate in it or not based upon do I believe it's a right thing to do for Wyoming now, and I do. Win or lose, I am going to try to make the case. If they don't accept it, I will look forward to their plan on how they're going to tackle all these issues that would otherwise be covered by Medicaid expansion.
Craig: Another area of discussion that we've had, Governor, relative to this Q&A session that we're having tonight is the University of Wyoming. It's now appointed its next president. What are your expectations of her? Where do you see the university has its most challenges in front of us as the new president becomes its leader?
Governor: No question, she has some challenges, but we start with the fact that the legislature now and historically has been very, very supportive of the University of Wyoming. Their request, budget request, was for $417 million. About 3 to 4 years ago, there were about $362 million. The legislature and I have been very supportive of UW, but, in talking to President-elect Nichols, we talked about the fact that UW has more programs than CSU by a long shot. It has more programs than UCLA.
Now, in fairness, it is our only university, and so we're nationally going to have a few more programs, but, especially during these tough budget times, I think one of her challenges is going to be to look at every program and see if it's ... how many students is benefiting, what are the costs associated with this, are we as land-grant institution doing the best job possible. I think it's healthy having somebody come in from the outside to look at that up and down.
I also would say that I think one of her challenges is, and I think it's true, there is a need at UW to be looking at the salaries of our professors and the staff over there.
Craig: I want to read you a quick quote about that that was in ... that's been in the media. It's from [Tammy Hurdle 00:30:31], a librarian. "Faculty and staff resignations," she says, "is going to continue to accelerate." She thinks it's a critical issue for the next president and that stagnant salaries are the reason.
Governor: I think it is a reason. I suspect there's other reasons as well. I mean we know people leave to go do something else, but I think it is a serious reason that we see the stagnation and we see people moving on. We have to recognize, if we want great staff over there, great professors, we have to be in the market.
I talked to Dr. Nichols about how will you go about that. What did in the state when I was trying to get raises for state employees, which was, first, you have to have a system that provides accountability, who's doing what, how are they doing their job, and then what is the type of pay raise, does everybody get the same or does everybody get some and then your high performers get a little bit more. Before she can perform those tasks, we have to get an accounting system over at the University of Wyoming, which I asked for money for, because it's too hard now because we're working on antiquated systems there that you can't just pull up which professor is doing what and how many students are graduating from that program.
That accounting system is important for her to get her facts and her data to be able to show the number of professors who are leaving and why they are leaving, and then to be able to make the case. I think she is going to be very interested. I don't want to speak for her because she is not in, but I think she will be very interested in doing that, but doing it in a way that is analytical, that has the data, and I think she comes forward in front of me and the legislature with that information, I think once again Wyoming will show it's very supportive of those efforts.
Craig: Do you perceive though, Governor, that the university is losing some of its top talent?
Governor: It's hard for me to gauge because I don't get to visit with all the professors over there, and the professors that I do are engaged in such incredible work and they're so talented. We've got people over there who've been working on the science initiative, the professors that are just so bright and so talented, and they're there, and so I don't ask them if they're getting ready to leave. I see Dr. [Perry 00:32:46] over there doing work that's not being done anywhere else in the world. I see the business college. I see the new dean of education. I see the new dean of engineering. I think we've attracted some great people. I think we have some great professors over there.
Because I don't know them all, I don't know which great talent we may be losing, but whether I know them or not, I always think this is going to be an issue that has to be data driven. We want that to be a great institution. It's our only one. We need the data from UW to be able to support this, and that starts with that important accounting system that I asked for money before this session.
Craig: Several questions are coming up about the university, Governor, one of which, "What do you see as the essential purpose of the University of Wyoming? What's the role and function or duty to the people of Wyoming? Is the university best understood in terms of being a business with the ideas of profit efficiency and customer satisfaction, or is there a better metaphor to ... or framework to capture the essence of what UW should be?
Governor: I don't know how you can articulate. I mean I think that's a thorough articulation, but it is a land-grant university. It's our only university. I think, one, where I started out with this, as our law says, it's got to be as affordable as possible to the students. I think the Hathaways certainly supports that. I also think one of the missions is outreach not only to students of every corner of the state to make sure they know that they are welcome there and that UW is interested in them, but I also think, on the private sector, what can the university be doing to support the private sector in the state is also important.
The university college experience is not just about the studies that you take and the education you get. I think that is part of it, but it's also a time of growth, a time of controversies sometimes at the university, and it's also a time when students have an opportunity to learn not just what's in their classes, but social skills and all the opportunities that come with it. I think, when you only have one, you look at not only the great programs, but you look at athletics, you look at the buildings there. You look at it so that, even if you weren't a student there and you're from Wyoming, that, when you drive by that university, you have pride in what it's doing in terms of education and pride in what it represents for the entire state, outside of just the outsides who go there.
Craig: You brought up athletics. There's a lot of discussion, Governor, as you're well aware, about the University of Wyoming and its athletic program. The athletic director, Tom Burman, and the football coach, Craig Bohl, both previously told lawmakers that money is what's needed to stay competitive in the Mountain West Conference. Both men, along with Coaches Shyatt and Legerski, this week spent a lot of time pushing back against those critical costs of athletics at the University of Wyoming. What's your metric or what's your timetable to determine whether athletics at the University of Wyoming is money well-spent by the State of Wyoming?
Governor: I think my timeframe is now. I think it is money well-spent. I think that it's, when it's our only university, and we are in the Mountain West Conference, it's part of that experience for the students and it's safe for them to be competitive. Coach Legerski, Coach Shyatt and Coach Bohl, they're important in this as well. I mean we got to have good coaches. I think all three of them are outstanding coaches. I think they do a great job, but I think Wyoming has a choice. Are we going to be competitive? Are we going to be in athletics, or are we not going to be in athletics?
Athletics, I think, adds to the whole experience, whether an athlete or not. I think it provides pride in the university for the whole state and, beyond that, it bring in some outstanding students who do remarkable things not just in athletics, but, if you look now at the wrestling team. I met a young man who's on the wrestling, an outstanding wrestling, who looks like Hulk-to-be, but beyond that, he is a top student in engineering. I don't think we want a university that just has academics and doesn't have some of those extracurricular activities, and I think athletics is an important part of it.
Craig: I want to ask you about a post that Athletic Directed Burman made this week on his own Facebook page. I read this. Coach Bohl is going to win in football if we give him the resources. He knows how to do it, and he must continue to invest, Boise State, San Diego State and CSU have all these type of investments, stick with it for a half dozens years and evaluate it. That'll be 8 years into the Coach Bohl era. Does our state have that much time to wait to see if the investments are going to provide a successful football team which hasn't won a Mountain West Conference championship since 1996?
Governor: I don't know if you've been around Coach Bohl. He's such an energetic guy, you feel like you need to do push-ups around him. I mean, maybe next year, I don't know. I mean that's ... Burman would know certainly more about that than I did, but I don't think we can say, if he doesn't win a Mountain West championship in 6 years now, it's a failure because there is track, there's wrestling. You see what Coach Legerski has done over there, and don't forget Coach Shyatt won the Mountain West Conference championship last year. We are competitive in that way, but, to stay competitive, when we see what CSU is doing and the other Mountain West Conference schools, I don't want Wyoming to be just always the last-run team not only for the image, but I just think that we have the ability as other states do to do that.
You see, for example, Boise State, which I don't know the history of Boise State, but had many of us considered Boise State and thought about Boise State until they became very good at football and were on national TV? What does that do in terms of recruiting students? What does it do in terms of providing alumni support in terms of dollars? I think it certainly helps.
I think Coach Bohl is a great coach. I hope he has that success, but I don't think we say if he doesn't win a Mountain West Conference championship in football that it's a failure. I think track, all women sports, all those things are important for those athletes.
Craig: Let's turn the page, Governor, if we could. Questions about the Wind River Indian Reservation, how are the relationships with the State of Wyoming and the tribes today?
Governor: I think they're good. One of the things that I started when I came into office is we have a general agreement that we will meet with a joint business council down here and then we will meet with the joint business council up there. One of the snafus that has been thrown into that is there's been friction between the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone in terms of meeting as a joint council. The last time I went up, I met with Northern Arapaho separately and Eastern Shoshone separately. I'm glad to do that, and I'll continue to do that, but when you only have 1 reservation, sometimes, it's hard for the coordination between the 2 tribal governments and the state government to all work on these things.
If you talk to the tribal members and those on the business council, they will remind you, and I think it's exactly true, the issues that we face in the state or the issues that they face on the reservation, oil and gas prices, water issues, economic development, broadband connectivity, these are all important to them, but they also have some areas where they are in a worse position than the state in terms of diabetes, healthcare generally. Substance abuse issues remain a challenge for them. It's not easy up there, but I think that the answer is the state has to continue to have to reach out to them and build those relationships.
We also have the tribal liaisons, which I asked for money for in my budget because I think that can be helpful. That money at this point has been cut in half by [JACs 00:41:25].
Craig: A couple more questions about the reservation, Governor, if you will, should Native American education be required of all students in the State of Wyoming?
Governor: Are you saying Native American, for the Native American population, should they be required or are you saying Native-
Craig: That all the students in Wyoming have an understand and be taught Native American or Wind River Reservation history in their classes in Wyoming?
Governor: I got what you're saying. I certainly think that would be valuable because the reservation, the people on the reservation I think should be viewed not only as a great thing for our state to be ... say the reservation is within our exterior boundaries, but I think their history is part of our history, and I think it's hard to know Wyoming history fully without understanding the many things that the tribes have accomplished, the challenges that they've had and the future that they can have. To me, that's ... that is part of Wyoming history. To not know about the reservation and the tribes I think would be an incomplete understanding of Wyoming's history.
Craig: One more question regarding the Wind River Indian Reservation I wanted to give you an opportunity to respond is something that former Riverton Mayor John Vincent said. He said, and I quote, "I think if you ... I think you have a certain number of people that will contest anything that the Indian tribes do, and really have no interest in trying to resolve things outside of a courtroom," he said, "and that's really kind of the position the state has adopted." What's your response to that?
Governor: I don't agree with that. I don't know if he was referring to the boundary case which we have challenged, which the [EPA 00:43:04] changed the reservation boundaries. I think didn't that was right, but I don't think that is a fair assessment now or in the past where the state has been with the reservation. I know there was an issue when Governor Freudenthal was in office regarding gambling and where that was going to go. Governor Freudenthal had a ... He was concerned about gambling on the reservation, but, as he said, we lost that and, now, let's do our best.
In my time, when I was a US attorney, one of the cases that still is remarked upon and followed by the Department of Justice is the Wind River Indian Reservation that was a huge a case, but it was the ... not only the tribes, but law enforcement on the reservation, the FBI and other agencies working with local agencies that I think set ... I think that set the benchmark on in terms of cooperation on the law enforcement level. I don't know of the context of the mayor's comments, but I certainly don't feel that way. I don't think that has been the history of Governor Freudenthal or the governors prior to him.
Craig: We've got 15 minutes or so left, Governor. Talk about the Wyoming Lottery. Has it been a disappointment to you that money hasn't really been returned to Wyoming cities and towns and to education from the lottery to this point and, also, I believe that some believe scratch games will be the panacea that, once we allow scratch games, if they're allowed in Wyoming, that then the revenue would increase to allow money to return to cities and towns. Your thoughts about the lottery in general?
Governor: I'm disappointed in the lottery because I've been afraid to buy a ticket because I thought, if I won, it would be [huge scandal 00:44:45].
Governor: Let's remember how the lottery was started, which was that the legislature passed the bill to allow it. They had concerns, and I don't think ... I think it's legitimate. We don't want to create a gambling problem, gambling addiction in the state, and so they had limitation on these games, but they also said, "Listen, you got to go forth and do this." The governor put together a team. They don't get any of the state money. They don't get really any state help. This group went out there, did an extraordinary job of going to a bank and saying, "Hey, we're starting something. We don't really have any collateral. Loan us the money, and let's get this started." They've done that, and I think they were right to "let's first pay our bill before we starting sending money to towns and counties." I think they anticipate, in April of this year, they're going to be able to do start doing that.
The level of the funding is not going to be I think what we would like, and that's why people say, "You got to get into instant gratification games, the scratch games." I'm not prepared to go there now. I mean somebody can convince me on that. I'll keep an open mind. I think that was sort of the deal when that legislation was passed is we want to avoid instant gratification games because we ... of our concerns about gambling additions.
Craig: We have had a question about problem gamblers in Wyoming, Governor. Some people believe it is an addiction and that there are concerns with lottery as being a part of that. Has enough services or enough planning relative to the lottery been done to assist problem gamblers in Wyoming?
Governor: I think there's more to do, but I think that the lottery, and not limited to the lottery, but I think they are trying to set aside expertise and time and money to deal with that issue. I don't think, as I understand it now, I don't think they have a good grasp of how big the issue is, but I think it's appropriate for them to be looking in that certainly. I do think that where we are now with that that, with instant gratification games, it would become, wherever it is now, I think it would be more serious issue if instant gratification games were allowed.
Craig: I'll talk to you about reclamation. That's an issue that's been in the news. It was in the news, in fact, today. Again, this is ... 2 questions from our [Inside 00:47:07] Energy reporter who is ... works with Wyoming PBS and Wyoming Public Media [inaudible 00:47:14]. Let's talk about coal mine reclamation. He asked, "At a recent Senate hearing in October, Janice Schneider, the assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management at the Department of the Interior, said that there are 'serious issues developing in Wyoming with respect to self-bonding.'"
Do you agree with characterization? As a follow-up, "The coal industry has been in decline for a few years. Have the regulators missed this? Why did not address the issue of self-bonding sooner?"
Governor: The Office of Surface Mining has a big role to play in terms of what that bonding is. I disagree with her assessment. Let's recall this is the very agency that just put a moratorium on new coal leases. They are not friends of coal. We've have 2 companies that ... 1 company off west that has gone through this. I think, the state, we put ourselves in a better position in terms of reclamation. We now have an issue with [ARCH 00:48:10] and are eager to work through that as well.
As I've said, I think people want to make sure we keep the coal mines operating and the miners mining and all that goes with that, but, at the same time, we not only hope for, we fully expect reclamation minings to be there so that we leave the land as they do now in a better position. Her analysis that there's somehow a runaway in this issue, I do not agree with. We will see if ... of other coal companies that face similar problems in terms of bankruptcy where they are, but I think each one has to be treated individually, and then the state needs to respond to make sure it is protected in terms of reclamation.
Craig: The last part of her question is essentially, "Are we certain that Wyoming taxpayers aren't going to be left paying the bill for reclamation?
Governor: I'm certain that Wyoming taxpayers are suffering from the actions of this administration as it relates to coal, as we cut education or look at cutting education. The other reason that they have this moratorium right now is to take a look to see whether coal companies are paying enough money. They're going bankrupt. I've talked to the secretary about this. We fundamentally disagree with the direction the Interior is going. We fundamentally disagree with so many of the directions the administration is going with regard to their rules and regulations.
I don't believe, as they look at coal, they're trying to figure out how can we really help coal and the coal programs, that's not my sense of what this administration is really concerned about.
Craig: We're going to talk about immigration for just a moment, Governor, if we could. There's been a legislation introduced that would take away some of your power relative to managing refugees should Wyoming ever choose to participate in the federal refugee settlement program. Statistics say that there are undocumented workers and there are immigrants in Wyoming, about 20,000 or so, the last statistics that I've seen as far as immigrants in Wyoming, and that number is growing. What's the difference in your mind between an immigrant and a refugee?
Governor: There's a distinct difference. When we're talking about immigration or people who immigrate into this country illegally, that is why we're talking about the importance of having a sound immigration plan and also secure borders. I think those two are fundamental for our country to have now. That is different than refugees.
It's interesting, I guess the best example I can give you on refugee is I recently heard, a couple of months ago, Governor Nikki Haley gave a description of the refugee program, which was her husband served over in Afghanistan and had the benefit of an Afghanistan citizen providing translation services for the company that the troops that her husband was working with. The decision was, if you leave them over there, not only that individual translator, but their families are going to be in immediate jeopardy. It was the refugee program that provided the services to get them out of harm's way.
We see a Republican and national committee right now asking for more robust refugee program with regard to certain groups that are being persecuted across the world. The refugee program was set up for that in the war-torn areas where people are being prosecuted to go through the channels first with the United Nations, but, more importantly, through our country's selection process to make sure we're not bringing in the wrong people, the examples of a 12-year-old girls being raped or boys being forced into military.
This is something the country has done for a long time in every states, but Wyoming has a program. What we here in Wyoming are facing is I don't know how many refugees are in Wyoming. We don't have any program. The states that have it get reporting from the federal government on what's going on. We don't have that, so we are flying blind in the State of Wyoming.
Craig: ... and the federal dollars to support those refugees at least for a short period of time.
Governor: [inaudible 00:52:16] federal dollar, and I don't know what state dollars are being spent on them either because we don't have any way at all to know what that is. That's why you see 49 states to address ... have for a long time had these plans in plans so they know what's going on in their states. Wyoming does not.
Craig: Is it something that Wyoming should take a more close look at?
Governor: It's been discussed, and we've been looking at it as an administration for about 2 years maybe, more than 2 years now. My disappointment with that is just the level of discussion has not been what I think it should be in terms of whether we should move forward with this or not. As a humanitarian council, I think they are a good group to say, "Let's have a fair discussion and a fair debate whether Wyoming should move forward with this or not."
Now, on top of that, sort of the other side of that is, particularly when it comes to Syrian refugees, the refugee program, in order for it to work, relies upon a sound vetting system. When you're in an area unlike Afghanistan where we had boots on the ground where we could check with the neighbors and businesses to see if this person is going to be here to harm or actually was somebody that helped our troops. In Syria, we don't have that. If there's a chance of false records or a misinformation, that's a problem. That's why I and many other governors wrote to this administration saying we have to make sure that this program is in place and is sound, and, until then, you've got to stop the program.
The National Governors Association ... The White House has agreed to work with the National Governors Association to see whether or not they can be [shored 00:53:56] up to [inaudible 00:53:56] assurances to the states that we're not going to be subjecting our citizens to terrorism.
Craig: A couple more minutes left, Governor, this is a statistic that was surprising to me. A large number of international students at the University of Wyoming are studying in the STEM fields, science, technology, engineering and math, 42.9% of doctorate degrees in STEM fields at the University of Wyoming go to international students and more than a majority of those students have to go home. Should there be a better pathway for them to stay in the country? One of the anecdotal reports I have is there are people that did their research on clean coal would love to stay here, but can't.
Governor: Yeah. I think we've heard of this issue not just in Wyoming, but around the country. The country, as a whole, we have the best universities and colleges in the world. We provide this first-class education to these students who are here for 4 years, 6 years, maybe longer during that education process and, as soon as we ... they get the benefit of our great universities, we ship them off and another country gets the benefit of all that education. I think that I don't how ... what the process is to look at that, but [inaudible 00:55:04], and actually President Nichols remarked upon that, the diversity at the University of Wyoming and how pleased she was to see that [inaudible 00:55:13]. When we are training those great, young minds and educating them, and they could provide something like the answer to clean coal, boy, we would sure like to have them around to provide that answer.
Craig: Just a few seconds left, Governor. There's so many things that we didn’t get to tonight, but you had asked consultants to give the state an idea of what a prison remodeling is going to cost in Rawlins. Have you got that number yet? You wanted it prior to this budget session.
Governor: We don't have the number, but it's going to be a big number. Whether it's a remodel or rebuild, it's going to be a big number.
Craig: Last, who's your Super Bowl pick?
Governor: Oh, we got to go with Denver, right? Absolutely. I think it's ... I don't know him, but watching Peyton Manning, I just think it would be historic and wonderful to see them pull this of.
Craig: Governor, we really appreciate your time tonight, visiting with us and for taking our questions. It's something that I don't believe every governor wants to do in our country. We appreciate your willingness to visit it us.
Governor: Thank you. It was great to be with you. Thanks for making the time. I always enjoy this as well.
Craig: Governor Matt Mead, thank you so much. I want to remind our viewers of the State of the State address, which will be broadcast live on Wyoming PBS and also streamed live next Monday, that's at 10:00, and also with our Weekly Capitol Outlooks Series that will commence a week from tomorrow. We'll be at the legislature in its temporary new home in the Jonah Center. Those will be at each Friday night at 7:30 while the legislature is in session.
To our viewers who have called in their questions tonight, thank you very much, and, to all of our viewers, have a good evening.