Mead: State of Wyoming strong, despite financial challenges
Cheyenne – The 64th Wyoming Legislature launched the 2017 General Session with the 2017 State of the State Address by Gov. Matt Mead.
Mead said, “I’m privileged today to give my seventh State of the State Address to the joint session of this new legislature, Wyoming’s 64th.”
“There are new leaders and new faces,” he continued. “There is new energy that comes with adding new people to the mix. To the first-time legislators, welcome. You have joined a distinguished group. To returning legislators, welcome back.”
“On the state of the State, I am pleased to report that, though we face challenging times, Wyoming remains strong,” Mead emphasized. “Our state has prepared well for times of lower revenue, and our citizens continue to do great things, contributing to Wyoming’s strength and success.”
Mead began his address by noting that conservative budgeting and savings have been instrumental in preparing Wyoming’s for the lean budget years.
“Past and present leaders of Wyoming have done both,” he said.
Currently, Wyoming has $1.59 billion in the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account (LSRA), commonly know as the rainy day fund, and nearly $7.4 billion in the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund.
“These funds have grown substantially during my time in office,” he said. “The rainy day fund is named for rainy days, like those we have been experiencing the last couple of years. It’s raining.”
Mead explained that those funds have helped ease the pain of tough revenue times to supplement the budget and provide necessary services to the state of Wyoming.
“Questions about the rainy day fund and its use continue to exist,” he said. “I continue to believe we need additional guidelines on the use of this fund that will set parameters and provide our citizens and local governments a better opportunity to refine their budgets by knowing what is the rainy day for and when will it be used.”
While carefully using those funds allows the state to backfill coffers during challenging times, he also noted that such use must be carefully regulated.
In 2017-18, $218 million was used from the rainy day fund by the Wyoming Legislature, leaving the fund “healthy,” according to Mead.
“We see, despite the energy bust, Wyoming has kept high national rankings,” Mead said. “These are indicative of our state’s strength.”
Throughout 2016, Wyoming maintained it’s AAA credit rating from Standard and Poor’s, and Wyoming was named the best state to start a business in, to make a living in and to retire in.
“These are all from 2016,” Mead emphasized. “That was the difficult year we just went through, and Wyoming was still ranked number one by the Tax Foundation for having the most business-friendly tax climate.”
Wyoming was also ranked first in workforce development in the Mountain Region, third for new business startups and sixth for business.
“Despite difficult budgets, Wyoming stayed proactive and forward-looking,” Mead said, noting that capital construction projects have allowed the state to continue to move forward.
“We have had an incredible opportunity with the wealth created by our citizens and business,” he added. “We are grateful for our partnerships.”
Strength moving forward
“Here in Wyoming, we are enriched by our great ag, tourism and minerals,” Mead said. “We are keeping the competitive edge, and that’s a wise thing to do at all times, especially in times of constrained revenue.”
He continued, “In 2016, we pushed on to promote and diversify our economy.”
Mead also noted the importance of agriculture.
“We are now and shall always be a proud ag state. Ag puts food on the table and provides open spaces,” he said. “We also have great wildlife and a great respect for the second amendment.”
He continued that these traditions have been an instrumental part of bringing in new industries to diversify the state’s economy.
In addition, Wyoming saw a year of record-breaking expansion for manufacturing, particularly in terms of the firearms industry.
“Our world-class companies manufacture guns, rifles, precision optics, etc.,” Mead said. “Magpul was also recently selected as the exclusive supplied of magazines for combat use for the U.S. Marine Corp. Isn’t that great news for Wyoming?”
“I believe now, more than ever, we can continue to built on a robust industry in Wyoming,” he added.
“Wyoming remains strong heading into this new year, and that’s a big achievement,” Mead said. “We’re keeping the state strong, and there’s a lot of credit to go around.”
However, as the state continues to forward, he noted that the budget will be of top concern.
In June 2016, Mead said he asked agencies to cut $250 million from their budgets, which are carried forward in his supplemental budget.
“The Executive Branch operating budget which was $2.9 billion in 2010, is now $2.5 billion, which is down, not up,” he said. “This reflects a conservative, disciplined budget.”
The Wyoming Legislature also voted for $67.7 million in cuts, which were difficult to make.
Despite the deep cuts that have been made, Mead said he has five simple budget requests for the upcoming year.
“I make only five general fund requests – $5 million for local governments, $2 million for the ENDOW initiative, $165,000 for tribal liaison, $500,000 for the UW Science Initiative and $475,000 for UW Strategic Enrollment,” he said.
In addition, Mead noted that there are challenges related to education funding, for which he has asked for a separate budget.
“Right now, we see a projected shortfall of $1.5 billion over the next six years,” he said. “That crisis requires big, difficult choices.”
“As we face difficult budget times, we know we are better suited to address this now than in the past,” Mead emphasized. “It isn’t just about the numbers or dollars on a single issue. We are obligated to do what is best – not for ourselves or our political parties, but for the citizens of wonderful Wyoming. We will continue to work hard for the citizens of Wyoming, and may God continue to bless Wyoming, the U.S. and all her people.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.