By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
Cuts in state spending beyond the $250 million reduction already authorized by Gov. Mark Gordon will be needed going forward, he said Wednesday.
Gordon, speaking during a news conference, said those reductions will involve state employee layoffs and furloughs.
“I am the first governor in quite a while who will actually have to lay off people,” he said. “I know how painful that is. I don’t particularly like it and I particularly don’t like the fact we won’t be able to do the things people have come to count on.”
The state’s top fiscal experts are predicting that between declines in the state’s mineral industries and the economic difficulties created by the coronavirus pandemic, state revenue will fall $1.5 billion short of what had been projected when the Legislature prepared the state budget for the 2021-2022 biennium, which began July 1.
Gordon said the declines in revenue amount to one-third of the money needed to run the state and since he lacks the authority to raise revenue, his only option is to cut spending.
“Simply put, we don’t have enough income,” he said. “We lost roughly a third of what we need to pay our bills. As governor, it is my constitutional duty to balance that budget.”
The cuts announced Monday, about 10% of the state’s total spending, amounted to about one-third of the spending reduction needed, Gordon said, so he ask agencies to look at further spending reductions.He added that the cuts will affect every Wyoming citizen.
“There is no part of the government that isn’t feeling the pain of that 10%,” he said. “There’s no part of the Wyoming citizenry that won’t feel something from this 10%.”
In addition to spending cuts and layoffs, the state will furlough for one day a month some staff members with higher salaries, Gordon said, those making about $65,000 a year.
The governor also took the opportunity to address critics questioning why the state is looking at the possible purchase of 1 million acres of land in southern Wyoming from Occidental Petroleum in the face of falling state income.
Gordon noted the money that would be used for the purchase, if approved by state officials, would come from state investment funds, not money used to pay the state’s bills.
“We’re not using any of the money that would pay for any of these programs, any of these salaries or any support for cities, towns or counties,” he said. “These monies are fully within our investment portfolio.”
If the purchase is approved, it will only be because the land will generate returns for the state, he added.
“We’re not taking any crazy bets and we’re not going out on any limb,” he said. “We’re making sure Wyoming will have the absolute best returns for the most safe investments it can have.”