2010 budget session will evaluate, make adjustments
Cheyenne – The upcoming state budget and funding of agencies and projects was one topic taking center stage at the mid-November meeting of the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts and Wyoming Weed and Pest Council joint meeting in Cheyenne.
A group of Wyoming legislative leadership was present to give their perspectives and projections for the upcoming legislative session, which will be a budget session setting the state’s spending for the next two years.
“We do have some good reserves,” said Senate President John Hines in his comments. “But I think they’re there for when it rains a lot, not just when we have a shower. I think we don’t need to spend them all right away.”
“We’ve been extremely fortunate to have surplus revenues from natural gas, oil and coal prices,” said Speaker of the House Colin Simpson of Wyoming’s income history. “Natural gas has been the real driver of the surpluses, and we base our budgets on projects of quantity produced and the price they may achieve over the next year or two.”
Simpson said the state’s current budget was based on $3.75 natural gas, while in mid-November 2009 the going rate was $2.34. “The price has rarely gone over $4 in the last year, and it’s more frequently been below $3,” he added.
Simpson said a comparison of the October 2008 and October 2009 reports reveals a $1.2 million budget reduction for the state. “We knew this was coming, and that’s why we broadened the Governor’s authority to cut budgets between sessions, and he did that over the summer. That cut about $200 million from the state budget.”
Hines said he feels the Governor’s 10 percent cut in Summer 2009 was carried through the agencies, and that they’re carrying forward and getting work done. “Like our own businesses, when our income is down a little we make adjustments and can get by quite well,” he said.
Wyoming’s Revenue Committee, said Hines, has a long list of proposals, among which is the suggestion to remove exemptions from sales and property taxes. “We have 40-some exemptions on sales tax, and close to that many on property taxes,” he noted, saying there are two sides to that argument.
“We do have 10 regular committees and 10 select committees that address issues,” he said. “When we really don’t know what to do we form a committee and study it, and sometimes we come up with a good answer and sometimes we don’t.”
“There will be substantial reductions in the next biennium,” said Simpson. “The shortfall for biennium ending in June 2010 isn’t bad, it’s the next two years in 2011 and 2012 where there’s a nearly $400 million reduction in forecasted revenue.”
“Without energy revenues, Wyoming is a much different place,” continued Simpson. “We’ll go into this budget session with much lower dollars than before and reprioritize like we do every year based on revenues.”
Governor Freudenthal will release his proposed budget December 1, after which the joint appropriations committee will look at it before releasing another revenue estimate in January 2010.
Hines said he expects the number of introduced bills to be slightly fewer this year than last, but that he still expects between 200 and 300 bills to work through this session.
“We all know economic condition of the country is different than it has been for quite a few years,” said Hines. “There’s a philosophy that when the income revenue goes down the first thing to do is raise taxes. But then the other side of the story is that most people’s income is down also.”
“We’ll focus on where we are fiscally, where we will be in two years and four years and do our best to ensure we’ll sustain as much as we can without raising taxes,” said Simpson. “We need to realize where we’ve been in the last five years and how fortunate we’ve been and ensure we’ve got fiscal conservatism on the budget.”
Of the upcoming 2010 legislative session, Hines said, “Anything you want to think about will come up this year.”
Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.