The two major-party candidates running for Wyoming governor in the November 2018 election are Mary Throne (D) and Mark Gordon (R). Gordon’s detractors on the far right have accused him of not being a “true” conservative, pointing to, among other things, his position on the board of the Sierra Club in the 1990s, a donation to John Kerry’s presidential campaign, and support for the Rocky Mountain Institute as examples of his democratic leanings. Some conservatives have even opined that there’s not much difference between Mark Gordon and Mary Throne.
That opinion carries little weight when one starts to look at the issues. While Gordon may be far more moderate than is comfortable for the ultra-conservative, he and Throne have a different stance on any number of issues, including taxes and Medicaid expansion.
Economic diversification has been a favorite political buzzword of candidates running for office in Wyoming. Both Throne and Gordon acknowledge the need to grow sectors other than energy and attract new business to the state. Both find much to support in the recently released ENDOW report, a 20-year economic diversification strategy focused on bringing new business to the state, supporting Wyoming’s natural resource, tourism and recreation, and agriculture industries, and decreasing youth outmigration. Within the energy sector, both support adding value to mineral-industry products and developing alternative energy. While they find agreement on these broad talking points, they diverge on how the current tax structure affects growing and diversifying the economy. Gordon believes we “build a fiscally stable future by balancing our budget and ensuring we are not spending more than we are taking in.” He doesn’t say “never” to new taxes but sees no need to increase taxes now. Throne, on the other hand, is unapologetic about the need to change the current tax structure even though she is quick to assure voters she is not advocating for a state income tax. She feels you can have a “fair, equitable and competitive” tax structure that won’t discourage businesses from coming to Wyoming.
Because taxes on minerals currently generate an estimated 70 percent of the state government revenues, the boom-and-bust cycles inherent to the energy industry cause unstable government funding.
Throne says that Wyoming needs to “build a tax structure that will support the economy of the future, not the economy of the past.”
A study from the economic forecasting firm REMI, commissioned by the Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee this year, concluded that bringing new business to the state as part of the economic diversification plan would decrease revenues under our current tax structure. Although this seems counterintuitive, the challenge is that new businesses bring new workers with the resulting increase in population putting a strain on state services such as law enforcement, infrastructure, and schools. Basically, the new workers cost more to provide services for than they pay in taxes. Without a tax structure ready to receive revenues from these new industries the study concluded that the state would suffer a net loss in revenue. The REMI study underscores Throne’s belief that we need to broaden our tax base either by increasing taxes or creating new taxes on industries outside the energy sector. Gordon doesn’t dismiss the REMI report, but notes that the hypothetical businesses used for the analysis were large businesses that would have a big impact on communities. Instead he advocates for encouraging entrepreneurship and small business as well as focusing on value-added products in the mineral industry.
A March 2018 Kaiser Family Foundation report found that Medicaid expansion has helped avoid hospital closure, particularly in rural areas.
Another talking point that both gubernatorial candidates agree on is that too many Wyomingites lack health insurance. While both agree that driving down the cost of insurance and attracting more insurers to the state are part of the solution, they disagree on Medicaid expansion. Gordon is flatly against it and feels that future costs of Medicaid expansion would strain the state budget. Gordon notes, “Trying to cover up a particular problem by providing more money to solve a problem that has no limits on the cost is not going to adjust the problem.” Diametrically opposed on this issue, Throne is a staunch supporter of Medicaid expansion and has mentioned it as one of the primary reasons she decided to run for governor. She laments both the over $5 million that Wyoming would have received between 2012-2018 had it expanded and the lost opportunity for the approximately 20,000 Wyomingites who would have received health insurance. Throne views Medicaid expansion as a “no-brainer,” noting that we should be taking the money as long as its available and we can end the program if the rate the federal government pays drops below a sustainable level. Medicaid expansion has been a tough sell in the Wyoming legislature and Governor Mead has never been able to win that fight, but Throne believes that she could build a coalition that could get it done. Even though Gordon worries that Wyoming would accrue a Medicaid expansion shortfall, there is evidence that Medicaid expansion lowers overall healthcare costs. A March 2018 Kaiser Family Foundation report found that Medicaid expansion has helped avoid hospital closure, particularly in rural areas. After our neighbor, Montana, approved Medicaid expansion in 2015, an April 2018 study from The Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana reports the expansion “introduces approximately $350 million to $400 million of new spending to Montana’s economy each year.”
– Article by Karen Hertel. October 25, 2018.
Bureau of Business and Economic Research, University of Montana. The Economic Impact of Medicaid Expansion in Montana. April 2018, mthcf.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/BBER-MT-Medicaid-Expansion-Report_4.11.18.pdf
ENDOW: Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming, State of Wyoming, 2017, www.endowyo.biz
Graham, Andrew. “Study: Without Tax Reform Economic Diversification Hurts State.” WyoFile, 5 June 2018, www.wyofile.com/study-without-tax-reform-economic-diversification-hurts-state/