Wyoming’s Permanent Savings
By Ogden Driskill and Albert Sommers
Guided by the Wyoming value of “save when you can,” the legislature, over several decades, set up endowments and smart savings to help support the state and its people into the future.
The system of reserves they created receives income generated off of a portion of our mineral taxes and one-time surpluses.
This savings structure not only protects our Kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) schools and ensures our state agencies continue to provide critical services to Wyoming citizens, it also allows the taxes paid by the people of Wyoming to remain among the lowest in the nation.
These savings accounts are growing from strong energy prices and constrained government growth through the careful planning and framework traditional conservative Republicans put in place through the years, including the 2023 legislative session.
Forty-nine years ago, voters adopted Wyoming Constitution Article 15, Section 19, which mandates the creation of the Permanent Wyoming Mineral Trust Fund (PWMTF).
This was only possible through the action and foresight of the legislature, which put the referendum on the ballot. On June 30, the PWMTF – the largest account in Wyoming’s portfolio – exceeded $10 billion for the first time in Wyoming’s history.
The second largest permanent fund in Wyoming – the Common School Permanent Land Fund (CSPLF), which supports K-12 schools – is forecast to exceed $5 billion during Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24).
If this forecast bears out, the CSPLF will have grown from $4.26 billion to $5.05 billion, or 18.5 percent, in the past two years alone. Put differently, for a fund which has existed since statehood – 134 years – the CSPLF is poised to grow by nearly one-fifth in this two-year period.
This didn’t happen by accident. It happened through the hard work of all of the mineral producers in Wyoming, as well as sound fiscal policy from Wyoming’s governors and legislature.
On behalf of the state of Wyoming and the citizens of Wyoming, we would like to say thank you to Wyoming’s mineral producers and their employees.
When the PWMTF crossed the threshold of $10 billion, the earnings from the PWMTF translates into about $500 million per year in available revenue for citizens of Wyoming. On the K-12 side with its CSPFL, amounts are roughly half of this, or $250 million per year for support of our schools.
The PWMTF’s $500 million annual performance means, for the approximate 230,000 households in Wyoming, the PWMTF generates about $2,100 per year per household.
The CSPLF annual performance translates into a $1,000 tax break per year for each household. This is $3,100 in taxes they don’t have to pay every year, while still receiving critical services and kids receiving a world class public education.
We call this Conservative Fiscal Policy.
For reference, in July 2012, near the time we began serving in the Wyoming Legislature, the PWMTF value was $5.6 billion and the CSPLF value was $2.37 billion, for a combined $8 billion in permanent savings.
If estimates hold true, by the end of FY24 on June 30, 2024, there will be a combined $15 billion in permanent savings – an increase of around $7 billion in only 12 years.
Traditional conservative Republicans controlled the legislature during this 12-year period of exponential growth in Wyoming’s permanent savings accounts, not the Freedom Caucus who touts themselves as being conservative.
In the 2023 General Session, the Freedom Caucus voted against a budget which will save nearly $1.5 billion by the end of FY24. And, without blinking an eye, they voted for House Bill (HB) 66 and HB 116, which would have cost Wyoming taxpayers nearly $1 billion.
To make matters worse, these bills would have put our mineral and health care industries at risk, while ignoring the Wyoming Constitution.
Does this sound conservative to you?
Thankfully, traditional conservative Republicans stopped these bills from becoming law.
Ogden Driskill is the president of the Senate and has served in the Wyoming Legislature since 2011. Albert Sommers is the Speaker of the House of Representatives and has served in the legislature since 2013. This article was originally published in Cowboy State Daily on Aug. 27.