Better Wyoming conducted a series of interviews on important state issues throughout 2016. Below is an interview with Rep. Mark Baker (House District 48).
Do you support or oppose efforts to have the federal government transfer public lands to state management? If so, would you like to see ownership of the land also be given to the state? Can the state afford the costs of managing more public lands?
I support the effort to transfer federal lands to state management. I think the state would actually do a much better job of managing. I think the federal government mismanages lands. Recently there’s been information released about how expensive forest fires are. Last summer there was a 110,000-acre forest in the Northwest. They’ve done a study regarding dead growth and dead material in a forest, and a healthy forest should have in the neighborhood of 25,000 tons of dead growth in an acre. Some of these lands [the feds manage] have five and six times that amount.
If we’re going to manage it the ownership should be in our hands. I think there are some exceptions to the rule but as a general principle I think the state would do better with the management and ownership of the land.
Should Wyoming expand Medicaid to include 20,000 people who now don’t qualify for Medicaid or Obamacare subsidies? If not, what do you say to people who believe Wyoming should take the federal funds? Do you think the federal government will renege on its promise to keep paying at least 90 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion?
I support free market health care. I support patient-centered health care and I want quality and I want affordability and I want choice. I do want people to have the right to choose. I think the whole package that we see as part of the Affordable Care Act — and I’m not completely opposed to the ACA, I think there’s been parts of the Affordable Care Act that I think have been positive — allowing individuals to stay on their parents’ health insurance until they’re 25, not being able to deny coverage on the basis of pre-conditions. I think it fell short in a couple of areas, including portability. I think that tort reform is a big deal. It makes health care unaffordable.
The whole package is not as simple as saying expand Medicaid or don’t expand Medicaid. I don’t think it’s a good idea to expand Medicaid to try to address a shortfall in resources to hospitals; I don’t agree with that approach. You look at some of the states that have expanded Medicaid, and what’s happened is you’ve had a large number of doctors who previously accepted Medicaid, but the reimbursement has gone down. The amount of people who enrolled in expanded Medicaid have been in some cases two or three times what was expected or predicted. There aren’t [enough] providers there to allow the individuals to get the health coverage and health care that they need. I don’t think having health insurance is the answer, I think having health care is the answer.
I didn’t have my insurance for five years. I know the struggle they’re going through, but providing someone with insurance that doesn’t do them any good isn’t the solution.
Do you believe there is a gender wage gap? If not, how do you account for figures that show women make about 70 cents per dollar a man makes in Wyoming? Is there anything the Legislature can do to narrow the gender wage gap?
My opinion is based on information that comes from the Census Bureau. The wage gap is another of those things where I don’t think it’s as simple as saying well, women make 70 cents on the dollar. When you look at the information, the Census Bureau doesn’t account for hours worked, it doesn’t account for experience, it doesn’t account for skills, and it doesn’t account for education. All it says is full-time [workers].
The information I’ve read says there is no wage gap for individuals 21-35, male or female, who live alone. For college-educated men and women ages 40-64 who have never been married, women actually make $7,000 more a year than men.
I don’t think it’s as simple a thing as “there’s a wage gap in Wyoming and how do we address it?” It doesn’t really dig into the numbers and it doesn’t account for equating apples to apples. If you take a male who works 40 hours a week in an industry and a female who works 40 hours a week in that same industry, then I think the wages are going to be comparable.
Should Wyoming increase the state’s minimum wage from $5.15 to the federal $7.25 per hour or a higher level? If so, what amount should it be increased to? Do you favor any increase in the minimum tipped wage, which is now $2.13 per hour?
As a general principle I think that the free market should determine those things. For me it’s almost like an artificial inflation on goods. The cost of an employee comes from somewhere, it doesn’t come from nowhere, so it’s going to be spread across the artificial inflation. I don’t want to leave people in poverty, I don’t want to see people struggling to make a living. I want to see people raise their earning potential and have the ability to make money. I don’t want to see people on entitlement programs. To make a livable wage they have to be able to learn a skill that utilizes something in the work force and rises above the level of poverty so they’re not stuck on food stamps or SNAP or being on Medicaid, those type of things.
Do you think the laws now on the books cover everything the state should do to protect victims of domestic violence? If not, what other laws should Wyoming consider?
I think we’ve made strides. I think that Sen. [John] Hastert has done a number of things. The bill that we had last year that came through Judiciary, a protection order bill, so victims of domestic violence will be able to obtain a protection order. I don’t necessarily know of gaps in the law where individuals are falling through.
What priorities do you have in this budget session? What are the bills you would most like to see passed by the Legislature this year?
One of the things I’ve talked to some legislators about is I’d like to see some kind of financial education and accountability in our education curriculum. Whether it’s a math class or a social studies class, it’s creating a financial education in our K-12 system where people are learning about compound interest and people are learning how to balance a checkbook and the difference between gross pay and net pay and tax rates. I’m going to try to get it as an interim topic for education in the next session. I don’t think I can drum up enough support for it [now] because our major priorities are going to be spending and are we going to expand Medicaid and are we going to give the University of Wyoming money when we’re cutting K-12. I think that’s going to be a heated discussion and it will play a huge part in what we do.