By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
There will be no special legislative session this summer for the Wyoming Legislature to decide how to spend federal coronavirus funds, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Friday.
Gordon and legislative leaders announced that instead, they will work with a special “strike team” formed by Gordon to develop a plan on how to best spend the fund. Gordon will then present that plan to the Legislature later this month.
The state has received $534 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to date, but another $534 million is anticipated to come sometime next year. The state also has until Dec. 31, 2024 to obligate the ARPA money and until Dec. 31, 2026 to spend it.
Gordon said he wants to develop a thoughtful, purposeful, transparent and strategic approach to handling ARPA funds.
“These are dollars borrowed by Congress from many generations yet to come, and if we are going to use them, in my mind, those future generations that will be paying for them must also benefit from them,” Gordon said. “ARPA funds, if we are to use them, must be for the greater benefit of Wyoming citizens, not for a few shiny distractions.”
Gordon has assembled a team to better identify what the state needs to do to survive and what can be done to better drive to a future where all of Wyoming can thrive.
Gordon anticipated directing a fraction of the federal funds already provided to the state to address emergency funding needs this year.
For the use of the remainder of the federal funds, Gordon identified the following enduring funding criteria:
- Have a long-term impact or a return on investment
- Not replenish budget cuts unless the replenishment can be sustained
- Be sustainable and not add to the State’s ongoing financial responsibilities
- Support stimulus over relief
- Where possible, leverage the dollars through matching or buy-in programs
- Create capacity for the future
- Benefit a wide group of citizens
To make sure that the criteria are met, Gordon and the Legislature’s presiding officers said a collaboration among legislators and the public will be important going forward.
“The federal law provides ample time to be methodical in determining our priorities,” said House Speaker Eric Barlow R-Gillette. “We can use this time to take public testimony, have robust discussions among the legislative membership to develop legislative priorities fully and thoughtfully, and to collaborate with the executive and judicial branches to determine the best and highest uses of ARPA funds.”
“A product developed with months of deliberation will be significantly better than any legislation compiled in a few days of hearings and a week-long special session,” said Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton. “We can utilize our standard budget hearing and standing committee processes to allocate these funds in a conservative manner during the 2022 Budget Session.”
Gordon, Barlow and Dockstader said the federal money will not be used this year to reduce the state’s spending on schools and local governments. However, the state’s share of those costs in the 2022-24 biennium may be reduced because of the infusion of ARPA funds.
Gordon will present the initial recommendations for emergency uses of ARPA funds developed by his team to the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee on June 15.