Wyoming lawmakers set to begin budget work

The Wyoming legislature is going into budget mode as it begins to work on its $2.8 billion budget. The budget is about $200 million less than it approved two years ago, but it also benefits from US federal bailout or ARPA money that state lawmakers have used. to strategically replace certain cuts and invest for the future.

Over the past two years, some of the budget discussions have been contentious. Last year, this was difficult due to the significant revenue losses the state had to face. Senate Revenue Committee Chairman Cale Case noted that it’s been a bumpy ride for a while.

“The loss we’ve seen in mining revenue since 2014, and that’s over $1 billion, [is] roughly equivalent to the amount of this ARPA funding. So put that in your mind and think we’re trying to figure out what to do with that funding, but we’ve lost so much mining revenue over the last six to eight years,” Case said.

Which made people grumpy. But Case doubts there will be much consternation this year. Senator Jackson Mike Gireau is a member of the Joint Appropriations Committee (JAC). He said the improved energy prices coupled with the ARPA money made crafting this year’s budget much more enjoyable.

“A lot of the cuts that were made last year have been reinstated, especially to the Department of Health and Family Services. So this budget was pretty neutral,” Gireau said. “The highlights, of course, are the market adjustment for employees. I think we were a bit short of what we did for schools. I think a teacher pays (increase) has to be in the (school funding) model. It’s not.”

Static salaries led many state employees to seek jobs elsewhere, so the JAC agreed to the governor’s recommendation to raise salaries for government, community college and University of Wyoming employees, including those of Wyoming Public Media. But the committee approved only part of a request to raise salaries for those working in the K-12 system. Some legislators should propose amendments to change this.

The committee also rejected a request for $7 million to fund the suicide prevention hotline. Representatives from Governor Mark Gordon’s office have urged the appropriations committee to consider putting that money back on the ground. Gillette, Sen. Jeff Wasserburger, said more funding for mental health, in general, is needed.

“Wyoming’s mental health record hasn’t been great. And in fact, I understand that we’re back to number one in suicides in our state, even though over time the legislature has tried to fix that, and so, I think we have to try to do something more,” Wasserburger said.

Andy Schwartz, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, of Jackson, said the committee reinstated some cuts for those in need.

“We got money for Wyoming Home Services, for example, which provides services to seniors who are still living in their homes. I think we can do more to keep citizens out of care homes. nurses because it’s not good for them and it’s not good for the state’s finances,” Schwartz said.

But there is one area he would like to see prioritized.

“I don’t think we can ever spend enough money to help at-risk miners because when they become productive members of society, they help Wyoming,” Schwartz added.

And there are amendments to do just that. On the recommendation of the governor, the committee sets aside money for the future. Jackson Senator Mike Gireau expects this to generate discussion.

“We took a lot of that money and put it into savings, which was a pretty conservative approach. You know, funding the Wildlife Trust Fund, putting money into the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund and the Common School Fund were conservative measures to spend money in savings that we had converted those federal dollars,” Gireau said.

Along with this, the Appropriations Committee has sponsored a separate measure that would ask the public to support a constitutional amendment that would allow the legislature to withdraw income from the permanent minerals trust fund and place it in an investment account. The hope is that it will generate revenue for the future to offset losses in the energy industry. This proposal is currently in the House. Senate Speaker Cale Case likes the idea.

“I like to generate dough. Revenue has become a very big part of our portfolio. We’re kind of becoming trust fund babies. I don’t always like that,” Case said. “But honestly, until we have meaningful tax reform, we can’t pay as we go. And tax reform is falling flat in this session.”

Although there are discussions, increased revenues and federal dollars have made things better. Jackson’s rep Andy Schwartz said he could find a hundred things they could have funded, but in general he’s happy. The House and Senate will consider the budget amendments in the coming week.

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