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The following opinion was written and submitted by Tom Gagnon.
The Economic-Panel Discussion on Boom and Bust Cycles came to Rock Springs on October 9. It was held at Western Wyoming Community College, and generously funded by the American Heritage Center. In attendance were about seventy-five people from the area.
On the panel, acting as moderator was former Wyoming Governor, later ambassador to Ireland, Mike Sullivan. The panelists were former Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal, who led the state in its most prosperous years; State Senator Dan Dockstader of Star Valley; State Senator Tara Nethercott of Cheyenne, the leader in successful block-chain legislation, and therefore perhaps Wyoming’s most innovative personality; and Samuel Western, the author of the very popular book, “Pushed off the Mountain, Sold Down the River, Wyoming’s Search for its Soul.”
I highly anticipated the discussion on this recurring and convoluted topic of boom and bust cycles. Necessarily, however, the subject is frustratingly academic. It’s like identifying where all the blame comes from, but not having any idea at all of how to make things better. Indeed, if this discussion had been football, I’d say the ball was moved only about five yards, but I’m not sure if it moved this way or that way.
Only in the area of how tourism and lifestyles have changed did there seem to be any profound realization and agreement, this being that people now want to have “experiences,” and they want to participate in immersive activities in nature. Wyoming has this to offer, we just don’t promote it very well.
For years, an interest of mine has been considering ways for rural areas to somehow break out of boom-and-bust cycles. On June 16, this paper published an article that I wrote called, “New Energy and Politics Coming to Wyoming,” where I made brief mention of a State New Deal. Since then I’ve developed the idea further, and for the panelists, and audience, I wrote up a sketch of this concept, which I handed out. What follows is a slightly changed version of that, though because of space limitations it is still very abbreviated. It goes like this:
Given that the state has lost some 10,000 people over four years, and a general feeling of doom and gloom permeates the state, it is time we create a better self-image, and inject some good feelings, and money, directly to the people.
Wyoming has about 1.5 billion dollars in its Rainy-Day Fund, and some 21 billion dollars invested in the stock market. With only a portion of these funds, huge differences could be made for the people of this state, by:
- Expanding Medicaid, to provide health care to everyone;
- Give every adult in the state a one-time $1,000 dividend check;
- Legalize marijuana. This might, after all, pay for the above;
- End the War on Drugs. We lost this war years ago, and it only hurts people and costs a lot of money;
- Increase the minimum wage to $12 per hour, or higher;
- Repeal so-called “Right-to-Work Laws.” These lower incomes and benefits;
- Do a few billion dollars’ worth of small infrastructure projects designed to improve health and fitness statewide, for the benefit of residents, as well as giving visitors something fun to do, and to make a better impression on them. These might include:
- Building walking and bicycling paths in all of the towns and cities of the state, and linking many of them;
- Statewide, multiply and improve scenic parking areas, interpretive signage, and restrooms;
- Improve access to trails, many yet to be constructed, into our beautiful canyons and mountains. There is room here for tens of thousands of miles;
- Create more mountain biking, rock climbing, equestrian, and non-motorized water-sports destination areas;
- Rehab our run-down state parks;
- Regionally advertise ourselves as an affordable retirement location;
- Create huge bison roaming areas, such as out in the Red Desert. Via tourism and hunting, this would bring in lots more money than ranching;
- Upgrade all forty-two of our Wilderness Study Areas into fully protected Wilderness Areas. Nearby states have recently done this, and people like it;
- Do not allow special interests, such as ranching, mining and drilling, to pollute our waterways, perennial or ephemeral;
- We should encourage the development of clean-energy production, and work towards becoming “The Clean-Energy Capital of America”
- Absolutely do not allow for the “temporary,” or otherwise, storage of nuclear waste in our state.
Breaking boom-and-bust cycles will take bold actions.