Feb 16, 2017 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff WriterWyoming Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, is opposed to an effort Senate President Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, sponsored this year in an effort to spur economic diversification in the state.
Wyoming Rep. Dave Miller, R-Riverton, also sponsored Senate File 132, which sets up a committee to oversee and promote economic diversification activities.
Case says the committee SF 132 forms would be assigned work that the Wyoming Business Council is "supposed to be doing already."
"The bill spends $2.5 million, creates another bureaucracy and leaves open an avenue for crony capitalism," Case said. "We honestly do not have a great history here."
He noted that the Legislature made a similar move in 2015, when it created a program to aid economic development by enabling recruitment and operation of commercial scale "minerals to value added products" facilities.
"(That) has not worked either," Case said.
Bebout said SF 132 is different in that is involves the private sector in the effort to diversify the state's economy.
The bill would create the Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming (ENDOW) executive council, which would include members who represent existing, new and emerging economic sectors. As outlined in the legislation, the governor would attempt to appoint a diversity of members to the council based on existing, new and emerging economic sectors, and no more than two members would be appointed to serve concurrently from the same economic subsector.
The chairmen of the House and Senate minerals, business and economic development committees would sit on the council as ex officio, non-voting members, and the group would receive support from the WBC, the Wyoming Community College Commission, the University of Wyoming and the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, among other agencies.
In addition, Bebout said, the Senate file provides a timeline for certain accomplishments the council must meet. By Aug. 30, 2017, the group would submit an "exhaustive assessment" of the economic situation in Wyoming, identifying potential areas of business development. By Dec. 31, 2017, the council would submit a report of preliminary findings and recommendations in the development of a comprehensive economic diversification strategy, and by Aug. 1, 2018, a 20-year comprehensive economic diversification strategy should be submitted to the governor for his approval, complete with four-year action plans and performance benchmarks.
Bebout presented the bill Jan. 30 in the Senate, when Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, raised a concern similar to Case's.
"It looks to me like we're creating a new agency," Scott said. "We have a business council that's charged with doing many of these things. Why do we need to create a new agency as opposed to simply... giving it to the business council and modifying their statutes to sharpen their focus a bit?"
Sen. Curt Meier, R-LaGrange, echoed Scott's comments, wondering whether the Legislature could avoid appropriating $2.5 million to the economic diversification effort by using the WBC instead of creating the ENDOW group.
"That would get us off and going a lot faster than trying to reinvent the wheel, so to speak," Meier said.
Sen. James Anderson, R-Casper, shared the same concerns, questioning whether the state should allocate $2.5 million "that we don't have to expend right now."
Bebout called on his own experience in business when he advocated for the expenditure, which would come from the state's Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account, or "rainy day" fund.
"Some of the hardest decisions you have to make is when you're broke and don't have any money," he said. "We need to spend money now to prepare for what we're doing in the long term."
He also offered reasoning for creating the new ENDOW group as opposed to utilizing the WBC, explaining that WBC focuses on local economic development efforts but does not have a lot of experience in diversification.
"We haven't really focused on this like I think we should," Bebout said. "Nothing in the past has got us to the point. ... We have to do something. (I'd) hate to leave here and not have something that really looks at the diversification component."
Wyoming Economic Development Association president Dave Simonsen spoke to the WBC question in a press release supporting SF 132 this week.
"The WBC has done an outstanding job of facilitating economic growth across Wyoming," Simonsen said. "The ENDOW initiative represents a tremendous opportunity to augment those efforts by harnessing the collective efforts of the UW, the DWS, the community colleges, local economic developers and the private sector."
Bebout also received support from several legislators who spoke in favor of the bill Jan. 30, including Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee which has been wrestling with budget cuts throughout the first few weeks of the Legislative Session.
"If you don't think times have changed, come join us in (Appropriations)," Dockstader said. "Sit in there a couple hours and watch some gut-wrenching decisions that have to be made. It's all changed."
Plans like the one outlined in SF 132 are necessary now to develop a plan forward for Wyoming, he continued.
"This allows us to step out and take care of our own salvation, lift ourselves up by our own bootstraps," Dockstader said. "It's not going to come off the minerals-based economy anymore. It won't. That's over."
SF 132 cleared the Senate on third reading Feb. 1 in a 23-7 vote. It was placed on the House General File on Tuesday after being approved by the House Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee.
Gov. Matt Mead is asking the public to complete an online survey about ENDOW, including nominations for people to serve on the executive council. The survey can be found on the governor's website at governor.wyo.gov.
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