By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
While the Wyoming’s main bank account is still expected to fall short of what is needed to pay for state operations for the next two years, the level of that deficit has been cut almost in half, according to a state report.
A group of state fiscal experts, in a report issued Monday, said the state’s General Fund, the fund used to pay for most government operations, will fall about $451.1 million short of estimates used to prepare the state government budget for the current biennium.
However, that is an overall improvement of almost $426 million from estimates released in May, the report from the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group said.
The improved picture for the fiscal 2021-22 biennium were caused by tax collections in fiscal 2020 — which ended in June — that were higher than expected, an improved revenue outlook for the current biennium and improved revenue estimates for the state’s Budget Reserve Account, which is used to supplement the General Fund when the state needs additional money.
The report said all three upturns were due in part to the federal government’s CARES program and other steps taken during the pandemic to ease the economic impact caused when businesses were closed and activities were restricted to slow the spread of coronavirus.
“The downturn in Wyoming’s economy and associated revenue collections are historic, especially for Wyoming’s top two industries — mining and tourism,” the report said. “However, the depths of the downturn, to date, have not been as severe as contemplated in the May 2020 projection in part due to actions of the federal government.”
In addition, the May report was issued at a time when national and state parks were forced to close by the pandemic, the report said.
“This October … report also recognizes the rebound in tourism experienced over the summer, crowning with record visitation in the moth of September at both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks,” the report said.
The improvement in tourism contributed to the state collecting $81.3 million more in sales and use tax revenue than had previously been forecast, it said.
The report also noted that when the earlier estimates were issued in May, the state’s energy industry was feeling the impact of a global oil price war which has since ended.
The end result was that while production and tax income fell from 2019 figures, they did not fall as far as forecast in May, it said.
Moving forward, the state will see continued economic recovery, but it will be slow, the report said.
“Looking forward to the remainder of this calendar year and (fiscal) 2021, the themes found within this forecast include a relatively muted, extended recovery in the extractive industries with more overall optimism in total sales and use tax collections,” it said.