Governor recommends conservative budget for 2023-24
“While Wyoming has seen an uptick in revenues over the last few months and hopes to see more in the year ahead, I remain concerned about the long-term sustainability of Wyoming’s revenue sources,” Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon comments in his official proposed budget for the 2023-24 biennium for review in the 2022 Wyoming Legislative Session.
He continues, “Therefore, I am proposing a frugal budget with the hope that we can save more than $400 million in additional revenues that can help us to avoid having to make the kinds of draconian cuts we were compelled to last year.”
The governor’s proposal addresses critical considerations for Wyoming’s workforce, uncertainty in revenue due to inflation, COVID-19, commodity prices, politics, global considerations and economic volatility, the future of coal, oil and natural gas, as well as the impacts of drought on agriculture.
A major concern Gordon addresses in his proposed budget is the quality of pay for the state’s workforce.
The proposal mentions 7,700 of the 8,000 state employees are compensated below the peer market average of 2017. In addition, 38 percent of state employees report working a second job, and three percent of employees report enrollment into programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
“We cannot compete with counties, schools or municipalities for core jobs,” Gordon says. “Today, data show we are experiencing what so many other employers are – a dearth of qualified applicants willing to work. We cannot attract candidates to even apply, let alone staff state agencies, unless we can be more competitive in the marketplace.”
For example, in the fight to protect Wyoming’s water interests in the Colorado River Compact, Gordon explains there were two state employees focused on this challenge, and one of the two left the state for a similar position in Colorado with better pay.
In response to the situation, Gordon proposes a “modest adjustment” to bring the state’s workforce closer to market conditions and reimplement merit pay. He notes this action is imperative for employee retention and recruitment.
Saving funds through inflation
In the proposal, Gordon calls for some savings, while maintaining current funding for education and plans to refrain from further cuts. Gordon shares in the second quarter of 2021, Wyoming saw the highest inflation rate in more than a decade – an impact he considers throughout the entirety of his budget proposal.
“High inflation robs us of our economic gains; it impacts the budgets of families, businesses and state government,” Gordon notes. “While Wyoming’s revenue picture has improved since early last year, I believe we must be mindful about how we deploy the serendipitous, additional funds forecast for the coming biennium.”
He continues, “Today’s good fortune is a reprieve, not a solution to our revenue stability.”
In terms of revenue stability, Gordon recognizes there is a margin of uncertainty when it comes to the state’s number one revenue source – oil and natural gas.
“Policies from around the world and, more pointedly, from Washington, D.C., are targeting the fossil fuel industry, especially in western federal lands states. These policies will have an effect on future revenues,” Gordon says. “High prices for oil and natural gas bode well for the state’s coffers in the short-term, but they are also driving up inflation.”
Drought and agriculture
Gordon shares the summer of 2020 boasted the largest wildfire in state history, and as the drought continued into 2021, disastrous fire was somehow avoided. Though, because of forecasted drought, he believes the state of Wyoming should aggressively plan for another bad fire season.
Within his budget, Gordon proposes a one-time $20 million investment into the fire contingency account.
“This is needed to protect Wyoming people and property, but also to try and defend our forest products industry,” Gordon explains. “The Black Hills have been well-managed for years, but one mill closed for good this year, and we must have resources to prevent a fire from further impacting jobs and revenue from good forest management.”
In addition, Gordon notes a Shortage Condition Declaration for the Colorado River system could have great impacts on water use in the state for 2022.
“I have proposed adding a position to the legal team and to put someone on the ground in the Green River Basin to work with communities to better plan, communicate and protect the people and businesses of Wyoming that depend on the Green River and its tributaries for their livelihoods,” he says.
In total, the proposed budget earmarks just over $26.2 million dollars for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture in general funds.
Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.