Wyoming PBS - Capitol Outlook Week Two (2016)

Feb. 19, 2016 - CHEYENNE, WY

Senate Vice President Drew Perkins (R) Senate District 29
House Speaker Pro Tempore Tim Stubson (R) House District 56
Representative Bob Nicholas (R) House District 8

CRAIG BLUMENSHINE - We're back with the three members of the Joint Appropriations Committee on our special web extra of Capitol Outlook. And we have more issues to talk about. I want to talk about the Capitol Square Project. There was a meeting yesterday and some very good visuals on how beautiful, at least now, the plan is to spend 300 million dollars to restore the Capitol and the Herschler building. Is there any thought, or has there been any discussion on decoupling those two projects to maybe save money and maybe doing the Herschler building component a little bit later? Or is that project moving forward full-steam?

- Maybe I'll start since I was--

- We look at him because he's on the steering committee.

- Yea--

- He knows more than anybody about it.

- Well, and there has been discussion. And I think it's something.

- You know, we should have been looking at it and pushing it I think a little bit earlier. We talked throughout the interim about that. We really asked some questions about what does it look like if we stop the project at the Herschler. And the answers that came back were, "You can do that." And there might be some ultimate savings, but you're also going to leave probably twenty million dollars on the table. You know, that accounts for people that have moved out, additional planning, some of the mobilization costs, all those sorts of things. And so the ultimate question for me at least came down to: can I make a good argument that yes, we'll save some money, but we'd essentially burn twenty million dollars? Can I make a good faith argument that that makes sense? And for me, I couldn't. And so, we had a bill on the House side. I'm not sure about on the Senate. But on the House side, we had a bill to do that and to change the structure of the Capitol Project, and it failed. It failed on introduction, but it didn't even get a majority vote. So I think, at least on our side, people are committed to seeing the project through at the dollars, and only the dollars that we have appropriated, and so it's likely to move forward.

- Is that an agreement here that this project is going to go forward now in its current state of a 300 million dollar project for both the Herschler building and the State Capitol? Do you agree with that Senator Perkins?

- I think that ultimately the problem to have is the term that sometimes gets used in the legal profession: it's inextricably intertwined at this point. And so, when you start to pull out, the roots are wrapped around, particularly with the central utility plant and the cooling towers and how this whole process is supposed to go. They're now going to be located on top of the Herschler, so right now they're at ground level. And so, as I understand it, the moisture that comes out of the cooling towers is harming both the sandstone on the outside of the Capitol. Plus it's not good. It creates additional rust and issues in the Herschler building. So just that portion alone of moving the central utility plant, which is vital to the updating, it's actually reached the end of its useful life. So you start to unwrap, and that's exactly the things that Representative Stubson was talking about. When you start to move that cooling tower, you say, "Okay we're not going to do that." Well okay now what are you going to do with the central utility plant? It needs to move, because it's actually damaging the buildings and making conditions worse as we go. So you would have to redesign that, you'd have to move that, you'd have to find someplace else, you'd have to build towers. You're going to do something to move those cooling towers up. You take it out of the plan now, at the end of the day we may terminate it, but in the long run, and what we have to do to fix the Herschler building, which has a significant amount of its own problems. If we don't, we're potentially throwing money away. But there was a message sent in the Senate yesterday. On the CapCon Bill, there was about 990 thousand dollars in the CapCon bill, which was to provide some infrastructure for a visitor center, if you would, in the new Capitol. And that was stripped out of that bill in the Senate. I think the message is that we've agreed that it's the 300 million, the 293 million or whatever that number was, but it's not going to be any more than that.

- A year ago, we weren't sure exactly what 300 million dollars was going to purchase. Do we know now? Are we certain what we're going to get now for that money in terms of both the Herschler and the Capitol Building?

- I don't think we're certain yet, but we're very very close. And the fact is that the Herschler building has undergone dramatic changes as far as the plans to and in part because of the cost. And so what you see today as far as the design of what the Herschler will be compared to even six months ago is pretty dramatically different. But we should have a guaranteed maximum price here within another month or so. And we know pretty clearly now that we get what we plan in the Capitol. We get the additional committee space that we wanted, the new utility plant, and we get Herschler with greater square footage, and a better useful design than it has right now.

- Turn to Medicaid. The governor sent out a press release earlier this week asking your bodies to reconsider Medicaid. What scenarios is that debate going to play out in your minds now? We're down to the gun relative to the budget. What are your thoughts on whether we're going to see Medicaid in this budget or not? Senator Perkins.

- My reading is, I think it'll be a no on Medicaid expansion.

- The--

- Are you speaking for the Senate or for both the House and the Senate?

- Well at least for the Senate. My read of the Senate: yesterday we had a vote on a bill, in part I think Senate file 86, if I remember the number right, for some additional look at some healthcare issues. But included in that was the statutory requirement that the administration couldn't expand Medicaid without legislative authorization. So there was a mini-debate, if you would, on the appropriateness of that, and that passed with just about two-thirds vote of the Senate. So, if that's any indication of what I think the debate will be today, on Medicaid expansion, I think I would anticipate that will turn out about the same.

- Both agree that, from the House perspective, Medicaid's dead in the water then?

- Yea I've looked at the Third Reading Amendments, and there isn't one in the House on bringing back Medicaid expansion, and that was after the deadline was closed. So in terms of a Third Reading Amendment, it's my understanding that it won't even be debated on the floor.

- So the bottom line question then is is that the number now that the director has provided you is 20,000 Wyoming residents would benefit from Medicaid expansion, and you must believe then that 20,000 Wyoming residents won't be able to take advantage of Medicaid. What are your thoughts on how those folks can be served in Wyoming moving forward with healthcare?

- I think a couple of things. One, be careful of that number, because the governor's own numbers show that over 5,000, almost 6,000 of those people are currently covered under insurance, under private insurance. And that's really been one of the big concerns all the way along, is that you have a very fragile health insurance market in Wyoming. We've had one of our main health insurance companies go into receivership at the end of last year. And yet, under this proposal, you would pull almost 6,000 people out of that market and put them on Medicaid. And so that's a concern. But I think we are taking a number of steps this session that will help people across Wyoming, not just those 20,000, but all 560,000 with healthcare. Part of that is some bills we're dealing with on the House side that will increase the reimbursement rate for Medicaid providers, private hospitals, and nursing homes. So there's an array of things going forward that will help improve healthcare for the people of Wyoming. I think just because we haven't jumped on to the Medicare bandwagon at this time, it doesn't mean that we aren't focused on the issue and aren't trying to help the people of this state.

- Senator, the governor was concerned about these donut holes appearing in the state of Wyoming relative to healthcare that some hospitals may not be able to survive, I think was his argument. Are you concerned that not passing Medicaid with the hundreds of millions of federal dollars that entails, that hospitals will still be at risk, or have you done enough to make sure that Wyomingites have access to their local hospitals.

- I think the premise of that is actually probably not accurate. As you look around, when you look at ACA, and you look at particularly the states that have assumed or taken up, the 31 states that do it, and those that report data. And you go out and start to look at the data that comes out of those states with respect to what was the true effect of Medicaid expansion. There's a couple positives. One is that there has been a substantial reduction in the uninsured rate in those states. And also, there's no question that's put additional money into the system. But that's not the end of the story. What you're finding is, and what they're finding as you look at the states that have done it and have put data out, they're underestimating the amount by amount 91%. So it's not 40. It's not 20. It's going to be probably closer to 40. If 20's the number, it's more likely 40,000 that are going to do it. The second thing that happens is that you have to remember that the Medicaid solution is only a reimbursement of the portion of the costs. You get into the situation where if you sell a gumball for five cents, that costs you ten cents to buy, you can't get out of it by selling more gumballs. It only makes the matter worse. And that's what you're finding in a lot of these states. The uncompensated care has not gone down after they've expanded Medicaid. It's increased significantly because the utilization is up, and because the utilization is so high. In order to meet their budgets they've ended up reducing reimbursement rates, and hospital's have ended up with increase. They have more money in the system, but they've actually had increased amounts of uncompensated care, which is supposed to be what drives the hospitals under. So there may be a solution, but until we find an ability to control costs, control usage in some regard, all we're doing is writing a blank check that ultimately we're not going to have the money to cash.

- Turn the page now to the University of Wyoming. It's appointed its first woman president.

- Yea.

-She'll go to work here in May, my understanding. In fact, we're going to visit with her on our show today. What are your thoughts on the future of the University of Wyoming? This is a legislature that has been very good to the University of Wyoming and has supported it well. And now it has a new direction. One of her ideas is that the University needs a strategic plan to really look forward. What are your thoughts on how this University should look forward? You're all graduates. We're all graduates of the University of Wyoming. Have all spent time there. I'll start with you, Representative Nicholas.

- You know, it's a place that's near and dear to all of our hearts. And my daughter's going to school there right now. My son has been there. It's interesting though. I mean, there's still a lot of work that has to be done with UW. We have put a lot of money into it in the last 15 years, because we've had extra revenues to do it. But prior to that time, if you think about it, it went for 30 or 40 years with almost no major capitol construction or work on it. And if you look at the number of students that go to UW, it's almost the same now as it was 25 years ago. And so as a legislative body, like all things, we discuss this and talk about it. The dorms essentially need replaced. The dorms were old when I lived there. And so--

- Me too.

- But that's an expensive budgetary item. There's a lot of new construction in there. It's just a wonderful place to go. And for us, in terms of using our resources to raise up the folks in Wyoming, it's a good place to do it. And so, we've got the Science Initiative that's going on right now, and we just finished the Tier 1 or are in the process of finishing it. And those are all wonderful things for the folks in Wyoming. You know, it has a strategic plan, and it's a good plan, but it does need remodified and updated. And it's a continual progression of investing our dollars wisely, doing it in a reasonable, responsible rate of balancing all our other expenditures and responsibilities throughout the state. But there's still a long way to go, and it's really kind of a never-ending process, continually to improve and replace what's going on there. But when you go on campus now compared to 20 years ago, it's a different place.

- That's beautiful.

- And we're on our way.

- Is there a need to maybe enhance and refine focus of the University's mission in our state especially when you consider declining revenues?

- I think it's an ongoing process. I mean, that's not something that ever starts and stops. And I do think that over the last few years, there has been more of a focus on, you know this is a land-grant institution. It not only can help educate our kids, but it can contribute to the economic growth in our state in other ways. And, in many ways, UW's more important to our state than any other university in any other state, because until Wyoming Catholic College came in, it was the only four-year institution period in this state. And I've always been struck by the statistic that in Wyoming, we rank among the top per capita of high school diplomas per capita but we rank among the lowest in the country on Bachelor's degrees per capita. And that gap is something we really need to continue to work on if we're going to grow new industry and we're going to grow the economy in the state of Wyoming. So the investments we make, we argue a lot about where they should be made and how they should be made, but they really are important to the future of the state.

- Senator Perkins, bright future for the University of Wyoming even though we have declining revenues?

- I think, sure. There's no reason for it not to be. And I think that's one of the exciting things about the hiring of the new president. The new president's been through a downturn. She's guided a university through a downturn, and that's one of the great hopes I have. The other thing that I think has been a significant change to the university over the last few years that's exciting to me is the Board of Trustees has become much more engaged and much more actively involved in the steering in the direction and in working with the president doing that. And that expansion and that collaboration between the board and the administration will be exciting, and to get right to your point, I think the Board of Trustees is what gives that element from around Wyoming to come in and they can focus. And that's so later you can decide what is it she should enhance? Where are we going wrong? What mid course for our corrections can we make? And with the number of initiatives, there's been several initiatives over there about looking and moving this into the future. There are some things at the University of Wyoming that could be actually transformative not only for the University but for the state.

- It's been a pleasure to talk with you all, Vice President Perkins, Speaker for pro temp Stubson, and Representative Nicholas. Thank you so much for joining us on Capitol Outlook.