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Gordon vetoes Legislature’s $75M land-use legal fund spurred by Rock Springs plan

Taking on the federal government in court — however necessary — is not the job of lawmakers, Gordon wrote in his veto letter.

The Red Creek Badlands in southwestern Wyoming's Little Mountain area, pictured, includes an 8,020-acre wilderness study area. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

Citing concerns over the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches, Gov. Mark Gordon vetoed a bill Friday afternoon that would have earmarked $75 million for lawmakers to bring legal action against the federal government over land-use plans. 

Senate File 13 – Federal land use plans-legal actions authorized was spurred by the state’s ongoing fight over the Bureau of Land Management’s draft resource management plan for 3.5 million acres in southwest Wyoming. But taking on the federal government in court — however necessary — is not the job of lawmakers, Gordon wrote in his veto letter

“I respect the concerns of the Legislature; however, they do not overcome the fact that this bill represents a clear attempt to cross, blur and trample the line of separation between our equal, but separate, branches of government,” the governor said. 

Gordon’s reasoning should not come as a surprise to lawmakers. As the bill worked its way through the lawmaking process, much of the debate centered on its constitutionality

“Our job is to make laws, that’s what we do. The executive branch, their job is to enforce those laws. And the judicial branch’s is to interpret those laws,” Rep. Barry Crago (R-Buffalo), an attorney, said last month in a House Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee meeting. “That’s why I struggle with this particular bill, because we might be overstepping our bounds.”

Ultimately, Crago voted for the bill, which passed both chambers with considerable support.

Gov. Mark Gordon at the beginning of the 2024 Wyoming Legislature. (Ashton J. Hacke/WyoFile)

The legislation’s price tag was another issue for the governor. 

Spending that amount of money would not be fiscally conservative, Gordon wrote. In fact, it would amount to approximately 67% of the biennial budget of the attorney general’s office — the agency in the executive branch charged with heading up Wyoming’s legal interests. 

“Such litigation is costly, and there is no financial reason to double the cost to the Wyoming taxpayer with two parties, both claiming to represent the state of Wyoming,” he wrote

The bill’s appropriation would only serve “to enable duplicative Legislative litigation safaris that would be counterproductive and contrary to Wyoming’s well established practice of cooperation between branches and respect for the Constitutionally enshrined principle of the separation of powers between the branches,” Gordon wrote. 

The attorney general, according to Gordon, is currently involved in more than 30 cases “protecting the rights of our citizens.”

“I have not shied away from issues involving federal overreach into our management of Wyoming fossil fuels, wildlife and water, and will continue to do so,” Gordon wrote. 

The hard-line Wyoming Freedom Caucus, which is often critical of the governor, released a statement late Friday afternoon accusing Gordon of failing to stand up to federal overreach.

“The Wyoming Freedom Caucus will always relentlessly pursue the protection of Wyoming and her interests, and we are disappointed that Governor Gordon has neglected to do the same,” the statement said in part.

Since ending the 2024 session last week, lawmakers no longer can override Gordon’s veto. The governor still has to take action on dozens of bills passed during the session.

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.