Gov. Mark Gordon is defending a decision by the State Loan and Investment Board to go ahead with a state bid for a package of assets owned by Occidental Petroleum.
The company bought the property and other Wyoming assets as part of its $38 billion acquisition of Anadarko Petroleum last August.
Gordon and other state officials have been taking heat over the past couple of weeks as details of the bid were reported on, including that the bid could be upward of $1 billion.
The governor said the process has been open and transparent from the start, and will continue to be going forward. The bid, the amount of which hasn’t been announced, was approved Tuesday.
“This has not been a process that has been secretive or sly or slight-of-hand,” Gordon said during a Wednesday afternoon press briefing.
He said the state is looking at a package of assets dubbed “Project Bison” that includes about 5 million acres of land across southern Wyoming and into parts of Colorado and Utah. Other assets also make the land buy attractive, he said, including trona, natural gas, coal and other mineral rights.
The state is looking at the potential purchase as an investment and not a way to get into business to compete against other companies, he said.
“This is in no way an effort to try and build and operate a company,” Gordon said. “It is simply an asset purchase.”
He said there are many more steps ahead for the state, and it’s not a sure thing Wyoming’s bid will be the winning one.
Should the state win out and buy the land, it would still need a final OK from the SLIB and there will be three more public hearings to gather input.
Along with the Occidental bid, Mead painted a grim picture for the next biennial state budget, which will be debated and approved during the next legislative session.
Based on large drops in mineral royalties and revenues, Gordon said his department heads have already submitted proposals that cut 10% from their budgets, and they’ve been told to identify another 10%.
After deep cuts made in the last budget cycle, doing it again means cutting “close to the bone,” Gordon said.
That means some important and valued programs will likely see the chopping block, like money for sex offender mental health programs and curtailing out-of-state travel for departments.
“Predictably, there are some really tough things we need to look at,” the governor said. “There will be reductions enforced, and none of that is good.”
The second 10% slash “will be even harder,” Gordon said. “They will talk about really precious programs. I don’t look forward to any of this.”
As has become a habit for the governor during his regular press briefings during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gordon also made a plea for people to continue to wear masks in public and social distance.
He also owned up to some public criticism that he doesn’t always practice what he preaches.
“As much as I possibly can, I do try to wear a mask,” he said. “I’m very conscientious about it.”
Even so, he can still forget to put it on when people approach.
“I would love to say my behavior has been perfect, but I’m human,” Gordon said. “But it is increasingly important that we do this.
“I appreciate the criticism and take it to hart, and I’ll try to do a better job every day to wear a mask.”