Senator Case expressed his opinion on partisan politics interfering with what voters actually want. “I think a majority of Wyoming is pro-choice, wants Medicaid expansion, and probably wants medical mariuana too,” said Case. (Photo by Carl Cote)

By Sarah Elmquist Squires

Managing Editor

State Senator Cale Case spoke to Lander’s Rotary Club last week on issues spanning the state budget and tax reform, medical and mental health care, energy production, and the emergency services bill he’s sponsored that would allow counties to levy funds for ambulance services if approved by voters. He told the crowd that while the changing energy sector will force Wyoming to reexamine its tax structure, he felt state leaders would “kick the can down the road” yet again this session, and instead argue about social issues in Cheyenne. 

State Senator Cale Case spoke to Rotary Club members about upcoming issues at the legislative session in Cheyenne. “Who thinks that at least 50% of cars will be electric in 10 years?” Case asked for a show of hands. “I don’t think Wyoming is well prepared for the change that’s coming for our energy sources.” (Photo by Carl Cote)

Finances: Will Wyoming focus on tax reform?

I’m thinking about the challenges that are facing Wyoming that I don’t think people are paying attention to, Case told the crowd on Wednesday. 

“I’m really a fiscal hawk,” he said. Inflation, which is currently plaguing families across the country, he said, “is caused by government spending.”

The state of Wyoming is flush with cash because of federal ARPA funds, likely two years of revenue. There’s no need for a tax increase, now, Case said. “Except there’s a problem. It’s totally artificial. It’s [federal] stimulus money,” he shared. A spike in funds from oil, gas and coal, traditionally Wyoming’s biggest source of revenue, came at the same time as a glut of federal aid. It’s meant that state leaders have turned their gaze away from Wyoming’s predicament: the system that has leaned on energy production tax for the lion’s share of its coffers may need to levy funds from other sources in the future. 

“I don’t think we’re dealing with the change that’s on our plate,” Case told Rotarians. 

Do you agree, Sen. Case asked the audience, in 10 years, will half of new cars purchased be electric? “Not what if, but when that happens … We’re going to have a real problem in Wyoming,” he said. There isn’t a coal plant in the country that isn’t slated for closure, he added. “Natural gas is a bright spot,” he said of Wyoming’s energy production sector. But, “Here’s the real problem: Everyone’s got natural gas.”

Case said he predicts this session will be focused on bickering over social issues, with legislative leaders less interested in tax reform because the state coffers are bloated with federal stimulus money. 

Rotarian John Brown asked Case where nuclear energy could fit into the equation. “Nuclear power has gotten a bad reputation,” he said. But he said nuclear disasters that have people shy from the clean energy source happened at plants with very old technology. “It seems to me that that’s the real future in clean energy,” he said. 

“I think there’s a nuclear future for America,” Case said. It was probably a mistake for the U.S. to close so many of its plants; the country currently derives about 30% of its energy from nuclear, while France produces more than double that, he said. 

Lander Mayor Monte Richardson told Case that because the state is shying away from tax reform, cities and counties are struggling to plan for how to fund services. 

“We do need tax reform,” Case stated, adding that the current system is unsustainable. 

Some wondered whether sales taxes would end up shouldering more of state and local governments’ revenue needs, with audience members voicing concerns over potential taxes on necessities like food. Case said a lot of services and goods in the state are currently not subject to sales taxes, such as expensive ski lift tickets in Jackson Hole, or legal services, that could generate new revenue. Comparatively, Case added, property taxes and sales taxes in Wyoming are low. 

Rotary Club members gathered at the Oxbow for a Q and A luncheon with local Wyoming state senator Cale Case Wednesday afternoon in Lander. (Photo by Carl Cote)

EMS bill

“Right now ambulance service in Fremont County are pretty dicey,” Case noted, explaining that he’s sponsored Senate File 43. The bill would allow counties to form EMS districts, and raise property taxes to fund them. However, county voters would need to approve such taxing districts. 

The bill comes as communities across the state have struggled to fund emergency ambulance services, including Fremont County. The county had to subsidize Frontier Ambulance with nearly $1.5 million in tax dollars last year. 

Listen to the scanners, Case told Rotarians. “It’s horrific – how long people are waiting for an ambulance.” He referenced a letter to the editor in The Ranger and Lander Journal that said those who need ambulance services should just pay their own bills. Case said for those who need to be airlifted to a trauma center, those bills can be as much as $40,000 or more. We have relatively low property taxes, he said of the EMS bill, which would allow county voters to raise property taxes by four mills to fund the services. Without a way of funding Wyoming’s struggling ambulance services, he said, “I guess they’d have to pull out their checkbooks before they get in an ambulance.” We are still required to transport and treat people, even if they don’t have the funds to pay for those expensive ambulance rides. 

Mental health and health care

When asked about deep cuts to mental health care in recent years, Case said the legislature had restored some funding last session, but not enough. Wyoming has the highest rate of suicide in the nation, he said, with high rates of residents without health insurance coverage to combat it. Every neighboring state has taken up the federal government on Medicaid expansion funds, they’ve grown their economies faster. Wyoming has the slowest economic growth and the worst safety net for people living in poverty, he added. 

“The people who would benefit from Medicaid expansion are working now,” he said. They are your waitresses, your hotel workers. When Montana expanded Medicaid last year, it proved a windfall, and covered many residents who the state had covered before the expansion, saving state revenue. “I never used to support Medicaid expansion,” he said. “And I do now.” 

One audience member asked whether Case would support the legalization of medical marijuana. Raise your hands if you support it, Case told the crowd, with a scattering of enthusiastic hands up, a few more shy nods of agreement. “I bet the majority of [Wyoming residents] would support medical marijuana,” he said. I think the majority are pro-choice, and would support Medicaid expansion, he added. “Times have changed. This is where really partisan politics are hurting what people really want,” he said.