The newly-sworn-in Republican said the state has shown over the years that it can do a good job of saving, but he said it now needs to invest money to diversify its economic base.
Specifically, Mead said the state needs to show boldness in attracting mega data centers, citing their potential for economic development.
With an average data center salary of $85,000, “that’s a lot of money.”
Mead said data centers should find a welcome home in Wyoming, noting the state’s colder weather provides “automatic free cooling” for the arrays of computers.
He said the state has been in talks with several companies that are eyeing Wyoming as a data center location, including Verizon Wireless, which is looking to potentially construct a center north of Laramie. (See related story on Page 8.)
In general, Mead said the state needs greater broadband Internet access to provide enhanced telecommuting, telecommunication and tele-health services.
As one of his budget recommendations, Mead has asked the Legislature to take 1/2 percent of severance tax collections — $156.5 million for the biennium — and split it evenly among local governments, highway improvements and the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account — the state’s rainy day fund.
In advocating for local government funding, the governor noted that, while budgets were cut 10 percent across state government last year, some local governments cut their budgets between 20 and 50 percent. Mead said local governments can’t afford to defer infrastructure maintenance.
He took a jab at legislators’ reluctance to distribute money to local governments, saying state officials often complain about the federal government taking money and refusing to distribute it to states.
“But that’s where it stops, because when people get here, they don’t want it (money) to go to the locals,” Mead said.
Putting off needed highway maintenance, Mead said, will only cost the state more money later on.
With an equal third of the money, $52.1 million, going into reserves, “it seems like it’s a realistic compromise to me,” Mead said of his proposal.
The governor also said he believes the state needs to question if it’s getting its money’s worth on education.
“I do not mind spending top dollar on education. It’s worth it,” he said. But with that spending, Mead said, the state needs to see corresponding results.
He noted that between 2003 and 2010, the state spent about $1.2 billion on its schools, with $156 million allocated in last year’s legislative budget session.
“It’s not like Wyoming has not committed to schools,” Mead said.
As the Legislature discusses possible changes to teacher tenure, Mead said he wants to see an objective standard for removals.
“We don’t want to start releasing teachers until we know why we’re releasing them,” he said. “Do we want the teacher released because they’re not the (principal’s) fishing buddy? Or do we want the teacher released because they’re not a good teacher?” Mead asked.
The governor also said the state needs to come up with a meaningful process to establish charter schools, something the state has been criticized for in the past.
Mead said his recent decision to join a legal challenge to the constitutionality of the federal health care bill is costing the state only $1,000 initially.
“For a big law firm, you can’t get a cup of coffee for $1,000, so that’s a bargain to me,” he said. However, Mead said he also is working to ready the state for the bill’s provisions in case the legal challenge fails.
He expressed concern about a bill in the Wyoming Legislature that would make it a felony for any state official to enforce the health care law.
“That’s not the road we want to be going down,” Mead said, quipping, “I just think it will be very embarrassing to pardon myself.”
Mead said he was still working to fill out his staff and set up his administration.
Already, he has met with governors in the West, President Barack Obama and members of his cabinet and other officials.
After the discussions, “I can tell you Wyoming is in very good shape,” Mead said.