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UW Survey: Citizens Back Legislative Actions but Support Medicaid Expansion

June 2, 2016

Wyoming citizens generally support measures taken by the Legislature to balance the state budget, but they disagree with lawmakers’ decision to not accept federal funding for Medicaid expansion, according to a new survey by University of Wyoming researchers.

The survey, conducted in early May by a team from UW’s Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy, included a representative sample of 317 Wyoming citizens from all 23 counties. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent 19 times out of 20.

Due to the dramatic drop in the price of oil in the last year, Wyoming faces a $600 million budget shortfall in the next two years. This requires state legislators to make difficult choices to balance the state budget. Options include budget and service cuts, tax increases and altering the state’s rate of savings. During the 2016 session, lawmakers opted for budget cuts and spending some savings.

To determine how well legislative actions align with citizen preferences, the survey team presented survey participants with a series of combinations of policies to simulate the multiple choices lawmakers face.

The bundle of choices that received the most support -- 52.3 percent -- included expanding Medicaid coverage to all Wyomingites; making no changes to taxes, education funding and highway funding; and drawing down the state’s rainy-day fund by 5.7 percent, along with a 1 percent reduction in state agencies’ spending for the next two years, as the Legislature directed in March.

“With the exception of expanding Medicaid, this bundle of policy outcomes aligns with the budget the Legislature passed,” the UW researchers note. “Factoring in the Legislature’s decision to not expand Medicaid, support for the bundle of policies adopted dropped to 40.7 percent, suggesting less than a majority of Wyomingites approved of the actual budget the Legislature passed.”

Including the Legislature’s budget actions with larger cuts imposed by Gov. Matt Mead since the end of the legislative session -- specifically, new cuts to reduce funding further to the university and community colleges -- support in the state dropped to 34.3 percent.

The survey results suggest that Medicaid expansion and taxes are the two most important policy outcomes for Wyomingites. Specifically, they do not want any changes in the way they are taxed by the state, and they prefer accepting federal funding to expand Medicaid. Because lawmakers have not accepted federal dollars for Medicaid expansion, the state spends about $20 million each year to pay hospitals and clinics for treating uninsured patients who can’t pay their medical bills.

The research team elected to present combinations of policy options -- rather than determine levels of support for single policy choices -- to more accurately gauge respondent preferences regarding the trade-offs posed by current budgetary choices.

“Using such methods allows respondents to more realistically consider the multiple choices facing state officials,” says marketing Professor Mark Peterson, who was part of the survey team. “Using such methods allows our survey to see how people view the actual trade-offs policymaking requires between, say, raising taxes, spending savings and cutting education funding.”

The seven budget outcomes included in the survey, listed along with their relative importance according to respondents, were: Medicaid expansion, 22.1 percent; taxes, 21.2 percent; K-12 education, 13.4 percent; the usage rate for savings, 12 percent; UW funding, 11.2 percent; highway funding, 11 percent; and community college funding, 10.2 percent.

The options presented for taxes, in combination with other issues, were to keep them as they are now, increase them by 15 percent or decrease by 15 percent. For K-12 funding, the options were to increase class sizes by 10 percent, decrease them by 10 percent or keep them the same. For UW and community college funding, the choices were a 10 percent increase, 10 percent decrease or no change. Highway funding options were a 14.5 percent increase, 14.5 percent decrease or no change.

Regarding Medicaid, options presented to survey participants were no change; partial expansion by 50 percent; or full expansion to 100 percent.

Options presented for use of savings and spending reductions were to cut the state budget by 6.6 percent; decrease the rainy-day fund by 5.7 percent, along with a 1 percent cut in agencies’ spending; or decrease the rainy-day fund by 12.5 percent.

For more details on the survey results and methods, go to www.uwyo.edu/newssupport/newshighres/documents/2016/06/pressrelease.pdf.

Joining Peterson on the research team were economics Associate Professor Rob Godby and marketing Ph.D. student Eric Krszjzaniek. They can be reached through Godby’s office at (307) 766-3843 or rgodby@uwyo.edu.


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Chad Baldwin

Institutional Communications

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Phone: (307) 766-2929

Email: cbaldwin@uwyo.edu

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