State announces deep budget cuts
As the smoke settles on the COVID-19 pandemic, the state of Wyoming is experiencing record-breaking loss of income for the second time in four years.
In a June 4 press release, Gov. Mark Gordon noted the state is in “uncharted territory.”
“We have just experienced the largest loss of income in our history, just four years after our second largest loss of income,” he said. “But, even if every state employee was let go, or if we closed the prisons, eliminated all money going to the courts and stopped funding persons with disabilities, we would still run out of funds at the end of the biennium.”
According to the press release, the governor is building a broad response plan to address this budget crisis. For spending reductions, he outlined a phased plan to be coordinated closely with the legislative branch.
“The next step requires state agency directors to identify and explain programs to eliminate by July 1, along with the consequences of those proposals,” the release noted. “These cuts will likely lead to some employees losing their jobs. He also asked agencies to consider salary reductions, furloughs, reductions in benefits and other options.”
The release continues, “The subsequent step involves preparing for the unknown, with each agency building flexible approaches that are responsive to updated revenue forecasts that will be issued by the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group (CREG) in July and October.”
“Wyoming depends on energy production to fund its government and has for decades,” the governor said. “But our coal revenues are down 25 percent and will continue to decline. Projected oil revenues have dropped more than 50 percent in three months. Gas is selling for 1970-level prices and there is no new production.”
He continued, “Compounding this, sales tax revenues, also largely driven by mineral development are in steep decline.”
“To be sure, the data we used to model these revenue shortfalls are preliminary, and therefore, still a bit unclear, but there can be no doubt we will see a continuing steep decline.” the governor said. “In any event, our approach to the significant cuts we will have to make must be done strategically, with purpose, and in a manner that assures Wyoming can recover rapidly.”
In his release, the governor reaffirmed the entirety of the response will build on his commitment to working with the legislature to look for other ways to fund an appropriate level of government services, including the short-term use of the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account, the Special Investment and Projects Account or revenue enhancements, since merely cutting services will not be enough to address the scope of the shortfall.
The Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) was one of the first budgets to be cut, with 10 rest areas across the state shut down.
“The Wyoming Department of Transportation took a very calculated and methodical approach to determining which rest areas would be closed,” Sheila Foertsch, the managing director of the Wyoming Trucking Association, said.
Foertsch also noted each of the 10 rest stops being closed are located no more than seven miles from a community or services of some sort, with parking.
WYDOT listed the facilities to close as Lusk on U.S. 18, Guernsey on U.S. 26, Greybull on U.S. 14-16-20, Moorcroft on Interstate 90, Star Valley on U.S. 89, Ft. Steele on Interstate 80, Sundance on Interstate 90, Upton on U.S. 16 and Orin Junction and Chugwater, both located on Interstate 25.
The shutdowns will be effective June 15.
“This will have real impacts, not only for travelers, but for the custodial staff contracted to provide services to these facilities,” Gordon said in a statement announcing the closures. “These workers are our friends and neighbors in Wyoming communities around the state.”
Other agencies across the state are also gearing up for unprecedented budget cuts.
“Right now, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) is evaluating alternatives to present to Gov. Gordon in compliance with his orders to reduce budgets,” said WDA Director Doug Miyamoto. “We are working through the process as quickly and thoroughly as possible.” He continued, “WDA, along with all the other agencies has already curtailed spending and hiring of new employees in an effort to save money.”
Michael Pearlman, communications director for the office of the governor noted all agencies funded through the general fund will be impacted by these cuts.
“These cuts are expected to impact all Wyoming citizens,” Pearlman said. “As agencies are expected to consider programmatic cuts instead of across-the-board cuts, citizens will likely see reduced government services.”
He continued, “State agencies will be submitting their proposals for the initial round of cuts by the end of the month. The governor will then review those proposals.”
“At this time, no decisions have been made about which programs will be cut and how these budget cuts are going to implemented by each state agency. That information will come in July,” Pearlman concluded.
Callie Hanson is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.