Wyoming Senate candidates talk cuts and revenues at Washington Park

Politics in the Park with Wyoming Senate and Natrona County Coroner candidates July 27, 2020 (Gregory Hirst)

CASPER, Wyo — Three Republican candidates for Wyoming Senate from Natrona County Districts 28 and 30 and the candidates for county coroner were featured at the third Politics in the Park candidate forum in Washington Park Monday, July 27. The primary election is August 18, but voting is currently open in Natrona County.

Senate District 30 incumbent Charlie Scott has served in the Wyoming Senate since 1983. His opponent in the primary, Charles Schoenwolf, was not in attendance. Senate District 28 incumbent Jim Anderson, who is running for his third term, is being challenged by Dr. Ryan Jackson.

The economy was a major theme; Wyoming is facing a project $1.5 billion shortfall over the next two years.

[It] would “exhaust all our reserves”, said Scott. “We don’t know how bad it’s going to be, but it’s going to be bad,” Scott said.

Taxes and revenues

“I’m afraid we may have to look at some taxes,” Scott said, “but I think the best ones are are the ones we export to someone else.” In Scott’s campaign literature, he said he preferred taxes on out-of-state interests.

Anderson said the tax increase that seemed most feasible would be a 1-2% increase in the state sales tax, which would bring in an estimated $105-$230 million per year.

A state income tax, he said, was a nonstarter. But he said that there were too many sales tax exemptions, many of which could be cut. Both Scott and Anderson spoke against a repeal of the 2007 sales tax exemption on groceries, which Scott said was a “regressive tax.”

Anderson highlighted the state’s two biggest budget expenditures: $1.9 billion for K-12 education and $1.7 billion for health care.

“K-12 could take a 20% cut and not even notice it. ” He mentioned that when $80 million was cut from the school budget, automatic pay increases effectively cancelled out the cuts. He also said that counties that did not agree to have one district per county were responsible for running up overhead costs. He said one district spent $36,000 per pupil because it only had six students.

Scott agreed that school administration could stand cuts, and that the schools were spending too much on bussing students. He also said that too much was being spend on new school construction. Scott also mentioned that improvements in early learning could save the cost of remedial education later in a student’s schooling.

Jackson, a physician, said he would try to preserve mental health and suicide prevention in the budget.

Don Halberg speaks at Politics in the Park July 27 (Gregory Hirst)

Diversifying the economy

Jackson said Wyoming should be processing its own rare-earth minerals rather than China. “It’s something that’s a matter of national security,” he said, “because those rare earth metals are in everything; every car, every cell phone, they’re in everything.”

Scott said data and technology databases could be the answer to diversification, pointing to the University of Wyoming successful bid to host the National Center for Atmospheric Research supercomputer in Cheyenne.

Jackson agreed that Wyoming had the climate, low cost-of-living considerations, and space to host data processing centers.

Anderson said that the time was right for Wyoming to invest in nuclear power and uranium. But he said one hurdle to all these prospects was the lack of a sufficient labor force.

Politics in the Park, Wyoming Senate and Natrona County Coroner candidates (Gregory Hirst)

Oil, gas, and coal

Anderson said there were avenues in exporting coal from the western coastal states, pending agreements with Oregon and Washington. He said the problem with the oil industry currently was low prices, but he had heard from industry experts that $100-per-barrel oil would come back.

Scott said he’d worked on legislation that passed that would allow coal-fired plants to be sold to private investors to use CO2 for enhanced oil recovery. He said the industry needed to be preserved when oil prices inevitably rebounded.

Jackson said national leaders needed to stop importing oil from overseas, especially when the U.S. was a net exporter. He said the outlook for coal was declining. “We’re not going to be able to save that and bring it back to where it was,” but he said that coal-conversion technologies could commodify some of Wyoming’s existing stockpile.

Senate District 30 incumbent Charlie Scott (Gregory Hirst)

“Why is Wyoming the best place to live?”

Scott: The “intelligent, friendly people.”

Anderson: “There’s a good education system for the kids. We have scenery the whole world wants to see, [and] we’ve got the wind that continues to clean the air for us.”

Jackson: “I’ve lived all over the world, but I’m so glad to be back in Wyoming. The clean air, the lack of crowds and we don’t have to wait in line… We don’t have the crime, the infighting, or the drama that so many other places have, and I’m so glad to be back home.”

Previous Politics in the Park events:

Politics in the Park forums will be held the following three Mondays and are hosted by the Natrona County Republican Women and Natrona County Republican Party.

The August 3 event will feature candidates for U.S. Senate.