Governor Matt Mead announced his first biennial budget Thursday. That budget, for the 2013-14 biennium, strikes an important balance between fiscal restraint and capitalizing on opportunities to invest in services with significant impacts for local communities, highways and education according to Mead.
“Wyoming is financially strong and we have an opportunity to invest in our future while recognizing we must always be good stewards of public dollars,” Governor Mead said. To this end, he proposes a reduction in ongoing spending of over $17 million. “The standard budget in Wyoming has more than doubled over the last ten years. While the State has accomplished a great deal during that decade, we see flat revenue projections ahead and we must recognize that the previous rate of growth is not sustainable.”
Governor Mead’s proposal reserves $87 million dollars unappropriated from the state’s general fund available for legislative consideration and over $400 million that can go to savings. “This leaves significant funding to the discretion of the Legislature for that body to bring its thoughts and expertise to bear on the priorities of the State. Recognizing the value of services the State provides also requires an acknowledgement that budget reductions should be done with careful consideration of the consequences. Therefore, I prefer to leave dollars on the table rather than have agencies, in a very short time period, being asked to make 5 to 8 percent across the board cuts,” Governor Mead said. Governor Mead notes it is important to be cautious. “With projections showing that state revenue will flatten out over the coming years, with anticipated federal cuts, and with growing instability in other parts of the world, it is necessary to exercise restraint with ongoing spending. I believe my budget reflects our strong financial position now, while taking a measured approach going forward,” Governor Mead said.
The budget proposal identifies the challenge of accurately counting the number of state employees. Governor Mead notes the varied names for employees. Some are part-time, some are contract, while some have other designations. “The state employee number needs to count everybody and express a straightforward total,” Governor Mead said. His budget increases employees by 28 due to 31 individuals moving from the status of University employees to state employees because of a change in the administration of the Casper Family Residency Program.
Governor Mead took a conservative, but measured approach to spending control, which allowed him the flexibility to apply revenue to one-time initiatives that move Wyoming forward. “We must position ourselves strategically to take advantage of economic growth and development opportunities so that our state, now and in the future, can remain strong and become stronger,” Governor Mead said.
The Governor’s budget proposal puts one-time money towards local governments, highways and schools, including the community colleges and University of Wyoming. “This budget recommends investment in the programs that create opportunities – education, construction funds, highways, cities, towns and counties. We invest in initiatives aimed at protecting and improving quality of life,” Governor Mead wrote in a letter to Wyoming legislators.
These funding recommendations include $168 million for cities, towns and counties, mostly for infrastructure projects and major maintenance, $15 million for landfill remediation or closure, $100 million for highways and roads, $21 million for the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resources Trust, $39.4 million for water projects, $15 million for mega data center and technology company incentives, $247 million for school capital construction projects, $55 million for University of Wyoming construction projects and $28.5 million for community college capital construction.
Governor Mead’s proposal also sets an investment strategy for AML money already in Wyoming’s coffers to continue to add value to natural resources and energy. Much of this $45 million would go to the School of Energy Resources (SER) at the University of Wyoming. The funding would expand research and expertise, match donations to the SER, work on a CO2 pipeline infrastructure across the state, convert vehicles to run on natural gas, and continue research on carbon sequestration and enhanced oil recovery. “It is appropriate to direct this existing revenue for continued efforts to add value to our energy resources,” Governor Mead said.
“I have incorporated several one-time recommendations based on budget requests,” Governor Mead wrote. “This strategy requires requests to be made and reviewed on a biennial basis, and it is a tool to reduce growth and increase transparency.” Governor Mead said this is especially important for spending on issues related to health care, given the uncertainty around the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.
Governor Mead confirmed that his continuing commitment to reducing the size of government and making it more efficient is long-term. “I believe this approach will achieve the transparency and accountability the public not only demands but is entitled to from state government without loss of important services. It further supports investment in those arenas vital to the ongoing economic prosperity and quality of life we expect for Wyoming citizens.”
Steps toward efficiency include the merger of two departments – Workforce Services and Employment – into a single department, realignment of the Department of Health and the Office of State Lands and Investments, and cost savings achieved by the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO). Next steps are further consolidation of information technology services and staff within the OCIO, housed as a separate agency, and implementation of results of ongoing agency program reviews.