The 21st legislative session is coming up, eventually. Because of COVID, it’s unclear when exactly state legislators will convene. They may not be able to meet in person except when required by state statute. But one thing that is certain is that the state budget will be on the table.
House District 16 Representative Mike Yin discussed the issues that he’s grappling with in the upcoming year. Governor Mark Gordon is proposing $114 million dollars in state agency cuts, and he has tasked the legislature with approving the budget. Yin says there’s no way around it: the cuts are going to hurt big time.
Yin: You know, I don’t think it’s really in the best interest of the state that we only do cuts. And I do think that there will be some set of cuts approved, whether I like it or not. The question is how deep those cuts are and what are we prioritizing that doesn’t get cut versus what does get cut. So that’ll definitely be a discussion in the legislature, but it’s going to hurt. There’s no doubt about it, especially given that there doesn’t seem to be any new revenue ideas on the horizon that seem like they could pass both chambers. And without that, services are just going to hurt across the board—around the state, but also in Teton County for sure.
Daly: I want to ask you more about that. The budget cuts will mean diminished services in mental health care and substance abuse treatment, as well as services for seniors and the disabled. Do we know yet how those kinds of budget cuts would impact Teton County?
Yin: I don’t think I have a clear picture of how it will affect it. I do know that the cuts to the Department of Health in general are some of the deepest. So, if we don’t have the funds to step up locally to help fill those holes, it will mean diminished services for all of the groups that you’ve mentioned above.
Daly: What are your thoughts about making cuts to health care and mental health care while we’re in the middle of a pandemic?
Yin: The timing is not good. I mean, I don’t think the timing is ever good, but the timing during the middle of a pandemic—cutting the Department of Health—will compound pains that people are already experiencing. So they need these support services. And without any revenue replacement, it’s going to mean people either aren’t going to get help, or they’re going to have to leave the state because they can’t live in a state that can’t support them. Or they will just suffer. Those are ultimately the three options, and none of them are good. And that’s why I’ve been trying to push for new revenue options with my colleagues. But that’ll be a hard conversation given the state of the elections this last year.
Daly: Mike, your plate is going to be full in 2021. You were elected the Minority Caucus Chairman, and you will serve on the Revenue Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. What are you looking forward to digging into in the New Year?
Yin: Both of those committees are really apt assignments for me. The revenue conversation is going to be a long-term conversation. It’s going to be one that won’t be just these two years because, unfortunately, I don’t see it being fixed because of the depth of the deficit that we’re in. And so I’m glad that I’m going to be part of the conversation on how we can have a progressive way we think of revenue in the state of Wyoming—instead of ones that would hurt people that are already suffering. So we need to make sure that any revenue that we push forward is fair and not where the burden is the hardest in Wyoming. And then with the Judiciary Committee, I think this is something that I’ll be learning a lot. I’m glad that I’m going to be part of the conversation on how we deal with justice in the state of Wyoming.
Daly: And finally, what would you like Teton County residents to be paying attention to at the state level in 2021?
Yin: I think it’s what we’ve been highlighting already, which is that we’re in a very large deficit. And it’s one where, you know, I think revenues might bounce back a little bit. But relying on the same system of revenue generation that we have been in the last 50 years in Wyoming isn’t going to work anymore. So we’re going to see cuts coming down the road. And if we want Wyoming to be a place that we all still want to live in—with a great education system and trying to work on things like our health care costs—than we need to figure out a different way of funding state government.
Daly: Representative Mike Yin, thank you so much for talking with me today.
Yin: Anytime. I appreciate it.