Gov. Mark Gordon’s $9.9 billion biennial budget proposal released Friday places a particular emphasis on saving money and property tax relief, offering $20 million to expand the state’s property tax rebate program.
In 2023, the Wyoming Department of Revenue delivered nearly $10 million in relief to nearly 9,000 households through a rebate program that was expanded this spring. Gordon’s proposal would bump the rebate program up to $28.3 million in funding, or a 240% increase from what was previously budgeted to fund the program.
Gordon said he also will entertain proposals brought during the 2024 legislative session to further address property tax relief.
It will be up the legislature during the 2024 legislative session to finalize a budget for the 2025-2026 biennium.
Spending And Saving
The legislature’s 2023 supplemental budget put an emphasis on saving money, socking $1.5 billion into state savings accounts.
Gordon proposes adding $265 million to the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund, which would increase the rainy day account to $1.6 billion. He also proposes $265 million for the Common School Permanent Land Fund and an additional $48.9 million for legislators to decide on.
Gordon’s proposed budget also increases spending by $1.2 billion.
Gordon believes his “fiscally conservative” budget proposal “focuses on needs and not wants,” while addressing challenges the state is facing. He compares the current state of the Wyoming economy to a newborn calf.
“The calf pictured on the cover of this budget book represents, in my mind, the optimism we have for a future; we must care for it and nurture the future the best that we can,” Gordon writes in his budget proposal.
The more than $1 billion in federal COVID-19 relief Wyoming has been receiving over the last few years will come to an end in the next biennium. Although Gordon touted Wyoming as responsible stewards of this money, which he called a “federal stopgap tsunami,” he said the state must evaluate the programs that were sustained by this money.
The end of the federal payouts puts Wyoming at an important inflection point in its history. Although the state has not cut its overall budget since 2020, overall revenues were in a relative decline prior to that time during the previous decade, he said. The decline in revenue from fossil fuels and growth of green energies will likely only continue that trend.
Gordon recommends returning $330 million to the general fund to replace the federal money.
Even so, the short-term outlook for Wyoming revenue is positive thanks to better-than-forecasted performances in the oil, natural gas and coal sectors. Gordon said this will provide a cushion to prevent future budget cuts while addressing increasing costs.
His budget proposal also includes adding $1 million to the Federal Natural Resources Planning Account to defend Wyoming in federal court cases. Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill recently said the state will eventually take legal action against the BLM for its proposed Rock Springs Resource Management Plan (RMP).
Gordon said the state was able to tap into this account after the BLM released its proposed RMP plans by using $50,000 to assist the Wyoming County Commissioners Association with managing its analyses of the draft RMP in comparison to its own county land use plans.
Gordon also recommends adding $695,000 to the state Office of Consumer Advocate budget, a group that can appeal utility rate increases..
“We continue to be challenged by a federal government whose executive policies are holding back our most profitable industries like oil and gas and coal that have done so much to fund our schools, our programs and our abilities to meet the needs of Wyoming citizens,” Gordon said in his budget announcement. “In totality, this budget proposes living within our means, not just in this biennium, but in those to come. It keeps ongoing spending at a level we can sustain. ”
Gordon also proposes extending his Energy Matching Fund program and funding various carbon sequestration efforts.
The 125-page proposal also calls for $164 million more for the Wyoming Department of Health and continued funding for community-based mental health. Gordon also advocates for a $774,270 expansion of the 988 suicide prevention program to add text and chat services to what would become a $1.7 million program. A spokesperson for Gordon said this money would be placed within the Wyoming Department of Health budget, not a trust fund established for the 988 hotline during the 2023 legislative session.
“We need to ensure all methods of communication are available to those at risk of suicide so that no matter the communication preference, someone is available to support them in their greatest time of need,” Gordon wrote in his budget.
In 2022, 5,181 calls were made to this hotline, but only 2% of the calls resulted in an emergency response, which Gordon said is a sign of success.
“The savings to law enforcement and fire departments across the state have been substantial,” he said.
He’s also proposing $25 million in matching money for the State Revolving Fund to support clean and drinking water projects throughout the state, and $40 million for the Wyoming Business Council’s Business Ready Communities program, which can be leveraged for public housing projects.
Gordon said these investments will attract workers and industry to the state.
The Wyoming Department of Education requested money for six additional employees, but its total budget decreased by $22 million. This decline was mostly caused by a $33 million decline in school support and special education programs, as a result of U.S. Department of Agriculture COVID grants for universal free meals coming to a close.
Secretary of State Chuck Gray isn’t adding any employees to his office despite increased business. He is requesting $773,397 in additional money from the governor to mostly pay for a new enterprise system that will allow the department to handle the increase in business without adding employees.
The treasurer’s office has requested money for two additional employees at a cost of $184,269.
The Attorney General’s office requested five new employees, and Gordon approved four.
The University of Wyoming requested a $99 million increase, but Gordon only budgeted $49 million, raising the total money the school receives from the state to $468 million.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.