- Associated Press - Monday, February 10, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Wyoming is in good financial shape and getting stronger, Gov. Matt Mead said in his State of the State address to lawmakers Monday in Cheyenne.

If the state of Wyoming were a stock for sale on the open market, Mead said he couldn’t think of a better investment.

The legislative session will last 20 days, and will focus on adopting a new state budget for the two-year fiscal period that starts July 1.

“We are in an enviable position and the time is now to invest in our state, our people and our future,” Mead said. “My budget makes this investment.”

Mead’s budget recommendation calls for $3.33 billion in state general funds, up just slightly from the $3.31 in his proposed budget two years ago. He urged lawmakers to increase support for local governments, provide pay raises for most state workers and boost funding for security in courtrooms and schools.

Mead also said the state is starting to lose workers as their benefits fail to keep pace with inflation.

“We are doing more with fewer employees,” Mead said. “We’re seeing income growth in the private sector. It’s been four years since state employees have had a raise, and it’s time for one now.”

The budget recommendations that Mead released in December called for just under $50 million for employee raises for state workers outside of the K-12 school system.

The Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee suggested cutting his recommendation by $12 million, leaving enough for annual 2 percent raises for the coming two years for most state workers while leaving another $2 million for merit raises.

The Joint Appropriations Committee has endorsed Mead’s suggestion that the state put $175 million into local government funding.

Mead said that the local government funding should be distributed by the state’s established formula. The Joint Appropriations Committee has discussed possibly directing more money to counties that might lose federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes funds.

Mead renewed his opposition to having Wyoming accept federal money to offer more poor people in the state health insurance under the federal Medicaid system.

The Legislature last year rejected an offer of about $50 million in federal funds to extend Medicaid coverage to some 17,600 people in the state under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Mead and many state lawmakers say they don’t trust federal promises to continue federal funding if the state accepts the expansion.

“We will see if the situation with the Affordable Care Act ever rights itself of is improved upon,” Mead said. “Neither has occurred yet. Therefore, at this time, I do not support (Medicaid) expansion.”

House Minority Floor Leader Rep. Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne, said after Mead’s address that legislative Democrats strongly disagree with the governor’s opposition.

“This idea that we can’t trust the feds is only applied to Medicaid expansion. It just doesn’t hold up, there’s no logic, no rhyme nor reason to that position,” Throne said.

Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, said he expects the Legislature may approve some sort of Medicaid expansion in this session.

“Some variety of Medicaid expansion will move forward,” Von Flatern said. “That’s early predictions, but I don’t think it will be exactly what President Obama may want - the 17,000 suddenly covered by Medicaid. But some variants of that so that more people will be covered.”

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