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Regional Small-Town Mom Ignores The Haters While Making Big Money On Adult Site “OnlyFans”

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Lisa Tooley had heard the stories of women making a lot of money online. 

The 44-year-old Nebraska mother of three saw a post on Pinterest in which a man had published photos of a Quonset hut and new Ford F-150. Money from his wife’s OnlyFans account bought those, he bragged, which convinced Tooley to look into it.

Her interest was driven more by desperation than anything else, Tooley told Cowboy State Daily by phone last week.

Tooley lives in Gering, a town of about 8,000 in the panhandle of Nebraska that has been hit hard by economic devastation. She had worked in the marketing department at Cabela’s before it was bought out by Bass Pro Shop in 2017. Despite Bass Pro Shop promising to keep existing employees, she was laid off after the purchase.

After that, she bought two liquor stores. But the buyout of Cabela’s meant many other people were laid off from the town’s biggest employer as well and they began to leave town to find jobs elsewhere. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, further reducing business.

Trying to keep her staff paid during the economic downturn forced her to cash in some of her children’s savings, which was a low point for her. She knew she needed to do something different, so she sold the businesses.

Meanwhile, the family of six – including her boyfriend Brant and his 10-year-old son – survived on Brant’s salary at a local utility company. 

After looking into OnlyFans further and communicating with a content creator in California, Tooley thought she might be able to make some money by posting photos of herself to the site and ran the idea past Brant.

He was all in, she said. In fact, he thought it was a great idea.

Big Money to be Made

OnlyFans has been around since 2016, the brainchild of British entrepreneur Tim Stokely. His vision was to launch a site where creators could monetize their content free of advertisers, according to information on the site.

Unlike other social media networks like Instagram, YouTube and Facebook, which forbid explicit content and nudity, OnlyFans allows it. Users pay a monthly subscription fee of between $4.99 and $49.99 to get access to a creator’s page. Creators can also earn tips and income from paid messages.

OnlyFans boasts having the strongest engagement statistics on social media. To date, the site has paid out over $3 billion to creators and has more than 100 million registered users and more than 1 million creators worldwide.

The company takes 20% of every subscription and on average, content creators make around $180 per month, although earnings can near $100,000, according to

Although OnlyFans does track the number of its users and their geographic locations, the company declined to say how many creators live in Wyoming and how much money they make per year.

“The brand does not release or share this type of data,” Taylor Osumi, vice president of Autumn Communications, said in an email.

Acceptable Uses

Creators can do anything on their sites, from offering health tips and posing partially or fully nude to performing sex acts, although strict rules forbid anyone under the age of 18 from posting or accessing the site. The company also has policies forbidding human trafficking and modern slavery.

According to OnlyFans policies, creators are forbidden from showing or promoting items and actions including firearms, drugs, suicide or self-harm, necrophilia, bestiality, revenge porn, sex trafficking or prostitution. Adherence to the rules is monitored by a third-party oversight provider.

The company has twice banned pornography on its site, in 2019 and 2021, due to pressure from the banking industry, but in each case, the ban was rescinded a short time later.

Tooley does not post sexually explicit content or full nudes. She refers to her posts as “spicier” content where she models lingerie and does the occasional topless shot. 

Mostly, she said, it’s flirtatious stuff with an emphasis on “being real” and sharing snippets of her life such as going to the gym and her children’s ball games.

Earning A Great Living

Tooley started her page in March 2021 and said it was slow going at first. On average, she was making around $200 to $300 a month, but then she started doing research into how to grow her fan base.

She reached out to a successful content creator in California who suggested she use other social media platforms to draw people to her page. Because OnlyFans does no advertising, content creators are left to do this on their own.

At some point she said she was contacted by a man who described himself as an “agent,” but decided not to work with him because he seemed “scammy” and wanted to make her took “trashy.” One bit of advice she did take, however, was to get on TikTok with a video.

It worked.

It was that TikTok video that changed everything for her. In the video, she appeared in a tank top, explaining the number one reason that MILFs, an acronym for hot moms, “do it better” is because they offer cookies in bed.

It absolutely blew up, Tooley said, garnering nearly 2 million views and drawing 80,000 subscribers to her site at a monthly charge of $12.99.

After this video, Tooley was making thousands of dollars every month and now wants to grow that figure to upwards of $100,000.

Keeping it Real

The success she has enjoyed and money she’s been able to make have astounded both Tooley and her partner.

“It’s totally insane,” she said.

Her fans are mostly men from the United States, though she does have “a good handful” of female fans as well as several men living outside the country, predominantly in Australia, Turkey and Wales.

The key was branding herself in a way that made her real to her viewers she said. 

She doesn’t pile on the makeup but instead comes across like a “Midwest Mom,” which is the creator name she uses for her page. Her subscribers seem to like her down-to-earth looks and approach and she said that some of her most popular videos were of her saying good morning to her fans as she headed off to the gym in her workout clothes and no makeup.

“They want to see a real person, not a made-up doll with filters,” she said.

The key is to post frequently and always remember that the job is to be an entertainer who doesn’t have to look perfect, she said. Mostly, she’s been amazed at the number of people who seem genuinely lonely and who pay extra just to talk to her on the phone about real life while asking her questions about herself.

Right now, she admitted she’s “pretty lazy” when it comes to posting and growing her page and estimates she only puts in about an hour a day, which she plans to amp up in the fall when her kids go back to school.

The Haters

Not all people have been complimentary to Tooley, both online and in person. Online, some people have commented on her social media posts that she’s too old and they’d never pay to see her.

Other moms in Tooley’s small town have waged a smear campaign, accusing her of being a terrible mother, though nobody has said so directly to her face. Instead, there are a lot of whispers and finger pointing, she said.

“A lot of these women are jealous,” Tooley said, noting that she puts in a lot of time at the gym and works hard to keep up her appearance.

Some have also gone after her on social media to campaign for the removal of her videos from TikTok and to besmirch her, she said.

As for her mothering skills, Tooley argued that this job allows her more time to be with her children and support their interests, such as traveling with her 10-year-old twins for their baseball games.

Her children know about her OnlyFans page and joke about how their friends call her a “hot mom.”

Her children are totally fine with it, she said, and reiterated that not only does it allow her to provide for her family but also allows her to spend more time with them and be a better mom. This is why she’s doing it, she said. It allows her to devote herself more to her children while also helping the family pay their bills.

For her, it’s also helped her work through her own body image issues and insecurities, she said. 

Posing for online photographs was awkward for Tooley at first, but she found it eventually empowering when she realized that she didn’t have to be perfect. In fact, the less perfect she is, the more her fans seem to respond to that realness.

She’s not selfish or conceited as her critics attest, but said she’s actually a really humble person who goes out of her way to help neighbors.

She urged those who choose to become content creators to really think it over first to decide if it’s the right thing for them, because once images begin appearing, they remain online forever.

“There is no turning back,” she said. “Once it’s out there, it’s there for life.”

At the same time, she’s happy with her decision and plans to do it for another two to five years, when she might be able to retire, assuming her brand continues to grow.

In the meantime, she said she’s not getting bogged down by the haters because they are a minority and more people in her hometown of Gering and elsewhere have been incredibly supportive.

“Worldwide people are not judging me,” she said. “It’s the 10% (judging me) who are the loudest.”

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Sheridan, Cody Mayors Say Population Increases Will Have Major Impact On Their Communities

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

While an increase in a city’s population of 450 to 650 might not seem very large, the mayors of Cody and Sheridan are saying the boosts in populations measured in one year could have a major impact.

Between the summers of 2020 and 2021, Park and Sheridan counties had two of the highest increases in population recorded in the state. Sheridan County’s population grew by 650, while Park’s increased by 452.

Cody Mayor Matt Hall and Sheridan Mayor Rich Bridger both said while they expected the U.S. Census to record some growth in the one-year period, neither expected the growth of 1.5% and 2.1%, respectively, reported recently.

Some cities might never notice that number of people moving into the area within a one-year period. But for the Sheridan and Cody, those few hundred new residents can make a big impact on an area, the mayors said.

“Our census numbers for 2020 brought our population up from around 9,500 to a little over 10,000, but I think it’s higher than that,” Hall told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday. “There are a lot of other communities within the Bighorn Basin that show we’ve had more growth than the census numbers indicated.”

Hall said that some of the impacts seen on the city in the last two years has been longer lines at shops during the tourist “off season” and a bit of a housing strain, but also an economic uptick during the off season.

Hall thinks the population number in Cody actually ranges somewhere from 10,500 to 11,000 residents.

He also believes that many of the new residents are coming from outside the state, from places such as California, Colorado and Texas.

“We have year-round commercial air service, relatively decent shopping amenities, cultural things like the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and the rodeo,” Hall said. “How long did it take people to realize how great these places are? And that’s not just Cody, it’s all of the places in Wyoming that have access to the mountains.”

Sheridan’s Bridger told Cowboy State Daily that there has been a real boom in housing over the last two years, which is partially caused by the amount of people moving into the area.

This has been the biggest downside for people moving into Sheridan, he said, as many houses are being built, but are still unaffordable to much of the local workforce.

“Our economy is doing well. Our sales tax numbers have been going up every month,” he said. “But the downside is you have to accommodate for that.”

Bridger also believed that most of the new residents have moved to Sheridan from out-of-state. He thought the pandemic was also one of the biggest reasons people started moving to Wyoming.

“We have a fairly diversified economy in Sheridan,” he said. “It’s also just a beautiful place. We’re close to the Bighorn Mountains. There’s a lot of hunting and fishing opportunities. We have a great downtown with a lot of shopping. Aesthetically, it’s just a beautiful place to live.”

Lincoln County saw the largest population gain in the state during the year, 2.4% or 479 residents.

Afton Mayor J.C. Inskeep and Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, did not respond to Cowboy State Daily’s requests for comment.

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Cody Man Who Owns Business in Ukraine Says He’s Doing What He Can to Protect Employees

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

The world’s eyes are on Ukraine as Russia seems poised to invade its neighbor. 

But for those who live there, daily life is being conducted as if nothing is amiss, according to a Wyoming man who conducts business in the country.

“I know it might seem a little weird for Americans watching it on CNN and stuff, but you know, Ukrainians are a little more relaxed about the situation,” said Nick Piazza, a Cody native whose investment banking business, SP Capital Management, is based in Ukraine. 

In a phone call with Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday, Piazza said he recently returned after spending three weeks in Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv, as Russia aggressively stepped up its military activity on the Ukrainian border. 

“As I left, there was a short period where international flights were canceled because international insurance companies weren’t insuring those flights,” he said. “And they’re doing a navy exercise in the Black Sea that has all but blocked Ukrainian ports. So it’s been tough on Ukraine.”

Russia appears to be ready to maintain a long-term battle with Ukraine. 

“They’ve put up hospitals, fuel depots, you know, things you do when you’re preparing for a potential intensive, longer term conflict, so those are all very disturbing,” Piazza told Cowboy State Daily. 

But Piazza said that Ukranians are displaying a quiet resolve.

“This is something Ukrainians have been doing for a while,” he said. “Much like people from Wyoming, from the Bighorn Basin, they’re very big on the idea of being free from the Soviet Union. And I think we need to remember that they’ve already lost roughly 15,000 people to this kind of hot and cold conflict with Russia since 2014.”

Piazza grew up in Cody, but moved to Ukraine after graduating from college, when colleagues introduced him to the opportunities for investment banking in that country.

“There was a big demand for investment in Ukraine, and I got involved with some people that taught me the trade,” he said. “And since about 2012, I’ve been doing my own investments, a bit of asset management and direct investments in Ukraine.”

In spite of the threat of military action, Piazza said he and his 20-plus employees are conducting business as usual.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve had to deal with Russia,” he said. “You know, they invaded Ukraine in 2014, and they never really left. They took Crimea and the area known as the Donbass in the east, so it’s something that’s been part of our daily lives for the better part of 10 years.”

Piazza moved to Ukraine for business in 2004, but said after the invasion in 2014, he moved his wife, who is a native of Ukraine, back to Cody.

“It was Russian snipers that came in 2014 and were shooting people on the main street, which basically led me to coming back to Cody,” he recalled. “I’d just had my first son and we thought that sniper fire was not the best atmosphere for toddlers.”

Courtesy, Nick Piazza

However, Piazza said he continues to spend about half of the year in Ukraine.

Piazza said the citizens of Ukraine are currently making low-level preparations for a potential invasion, including forming what he called “volunteer territorial defense battalions.”

“They’re getting, like, light arms training, basic military training in preparation to defend the country,” he said. “Additionally, from the Cold War era, Ukraine has a lot of underground bunkers and things like that in Kyiv, the capital city, that had over the years turned into strip clubs and casinos and things like that, that they’ve been kind of repurposing back to their original use to be ready.”

Piazza said his friends in the Ukrainian government have told him that they are preparing the western region of the country to shelter refugees, if necessary. 

“The western regions of Ukraine are less likely to be attacked,” he said. “So there’s camps and tents and all the things you need to have set up there. So it’s not an atmosphere of panic, but it’s definitely an atmosphere of having Plan B, getting ready for the potential worst.”

Piazza added that although much has been made of the numbers of Russian troops surrounding the country, very little has been mentioned about the 200,000 Ukrainian troops prepared to defend their homeland.

“The number of people turning out for these territorial defense forces is really heartening, people getting small arms training,” he said. “I know several businessmen, guys that are kind of office workers that are doing this training and getting ready. There’s also a program in Ukraine, where a lot of businesses are kind of basically saying, ‘If you go and join the army, or this Territorial Defense Force, not only will we hold your job for you, but we’ll continue paying your salary.’” 

As far as his business is concerned, Piazza said he is doing his best to protect his employees.

“We’ve put together different kinds of Plan Bs,” he said. “We’ve made it possible that the business will be able to operate in any kind of conflict situation, including moving servers, doing things like that. We’ve also put together kind of a small safe house for employees where they can get supplies, we bought satellite phones, things like that. So we’re dealing with it, but trying not to panic. And everybody’s hoping for the best.”

But he said none of his employees are considering leaving the country.

“All of them have told us that they want to stay,” he said. “Obviously, we have some contingency plans in place, but no one wants to leave their homeland. Home is home.” 

Piazza said his wife’s family is still in Ukraine, and are at this time unwilling to leave their home.

“Her mother, her grandmother, most of her relatives are there,” he said. “We have spoken to them at length, and we’ve invited them to come stay with us, but they feel like they want to stay there, come what may. They’re not gonna run from their homeland.”

Piazza added that the conflict has been a unifying force for Ukrainians.

“I think this is a very big nation building event for Ukraine,” he said. “And I think it’s shown how serious they are about their sovereignty, and how much they care about being an independent country.” 

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Wyoming Officials Don’t Agree With Report Pushing For Minimum Wage Increase

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Two Wyoming officials do not believe there is a need for a state minimum wage increase despite the fact Wyoming’s minimum wage is below that set by the federal government.

Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association executive director Chris Brown and economist and state Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, both had objections about the report.

“I thought the report was a bit simplistic,” Case told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday. “There are a lot of efforts to try and make compensation certainly more livable, but the report also suggests there aren’t negative effects from raising the wage.”

The Wyoming Community Foundation released a report this week that recommended the state increase its hourly minimum wage from its current level of $5.15 per hour to $12. The federal minimum wage is $7.25.

The foundation report also recommended that the state increase its hourly tipped minimum wage from $2.13 an hour to $6.85.

The report stated that Wyoming’s low-wage workers were a majority female, 53%, and parents 63%. More than half of those low-wage workers are over the age of 35.

The report also noted that nearly 30,000 Wyomingites would benefit from an increased minimum wage to $12 an hour.

By raising the minimum wage, the report said that Wyomingites would be closer to earning a living wage and the state would see reduced taxpayer spending on public assistance programs, higher worker morale and productivity and reduced economic inequality for people of color, especially women.

However, Case said that one of the problems with raising the minimum wage is that companies will begin to find ways to cut labor costs and automate jobs, pointing as examples to the use of self-serve kiosks at fast food restaurants or self-check registers at grocery stores.

Brown said that it was a “misspeak” to say that tipped employees are only making $2.13 an hour, as employers are required to ensure any employee earning less than the minimum wage make up that difference through their tips and hourly wages.

“In my experience as a former restaurant owner, tipped employees were making anywhere from $10 to $20 an hour when considering the tips they received,” he said.

Brown and Case also noted that the market sets the minimum wage and that in the current market, not only is no one is paying minimum wage, tipped or hourly, but most employers are paying significantly more.

Brown added that while the Wyoming Food and Lodging Association was not opposed to an incremental increase of the hourly, not tipped, minimum wage over time, a drastic increase could be devastating to some businesses.

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Wyoming’s Cost of Living Soars; Prices Won’t Stabilize For At Least a Year

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Prices for food and other consumer items probably will remain higher than average for at least a year, according to an economist with the University of Wyoming.

However, Anne Alexander told Cowboy State Daily that people should avoid “panic buying” because it will have a negative impact on the supply chain.

“Right now, we’re in this perfect storm of inflationary pressures,” The economist said Friday. “On the supply side, the supply chains are screwed up, partially because of labor shortages, but also because we’ve stopped producing as much of everything. On the demand side, we’re seeing almost panic buying.”

While Alexander does not believe the United States or Wyoming will see the level of inflation that affected the country from 1973 to 1982, she does not believe there will be any relief from current high prices until some time next year.

Wyoming’s cost of living has increased at a rate not seen in more than a decade, according to a recently released report from the state’s Economic Analysis Division.

The annual inflation rate of 7.7% recorded during the second quarter of the year — which ended June 30 — is the highest annual inflation rate seen since the second quarter of 2008, when the state’s inflation rate was 7.9%, according to the division’s inflation report.

Alexander explained that since Wyoming is a “microcosm of other places,” the state is seeing higher prices for basically every type of good and service now. She pointed to the state’s hospitality and tourism industry as being particular victims of the current inflation.

“We have a huge influx of people wanting to go outdoors to see Yellowstone or some of our other great treasures, but there aren’t enough workers in the hospitality sector,” she said. “So in addition to limiting hours of operations, some people are also having to jack up their prices to pay people to come work in their hotel, gift shop or restaurant.”

Prices as high as today’s have not been an issue since the early 1990s, so Alexander said that basically an entire generation has managed to grow up without seeing much inflation.

She noted that the pandemic was essentially the first domino to fall in the supply chain situation, as it interrupted a supply chain that was fragile to begin with.

While prices will stay high for likely another year, Alexander reminded Wyoming residents to never buy high, never sell low and do not panic buy.

“Your inclination might be to go buy a lot of stuff now before the prices go up, but that actually puts pressure on prices and makes things go up further,” she said.

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Wyoming’s Cost Of Living Increases At Highest Rate In Years

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s cost of living has increased at a rate not seen in more than a decade, according to a recently released report from the state’s Economic Analysis Division.

The annual inflation rate of 7.7% recorded during the second quarter of the year — which ended June 30 — is the highest annual inflation rate seen since the second quarter of 2008, when the state’s inflation rate was 7.9%, according to the division’s inflation report.

To determine how much the cost of living has increased from year-to-year, the division studies the costs of six consumer categories: transportation, medical, food, housing, apparel, and recreation and personal care.

The largest increase in costs in the second quarter of the year was in transportation, which grew by 23.3% from the second quarter of 2020, and recreation and personal care, which saw an 8% increase.

In 2008, the driving factors in the cost of living increase appeared to be transportation, with a 15% increase, food, with growth f 7.4%, and housing, where costs increased by 7.2%.

In the second quarter of 2021, the southwestern region of the state saw the highest inflation rate, 8.9%.

For total cost of living, Teton County saw the highest rate, with a cost of living 65% higher than the statewide average.

Lincoln, Laramie and Sublette counties all had costs of living slightly higher — 3% to 5% — than the statewide average. Washakie County had the lowest cost of living, according to the report, at 87% of the statewide average.

According to NPR, the Labor Department reported Wednesday that consumer prices nationally were 6.2% higher in October than a year ago, the sharpest increase since November 1990.

The outlet also noted that much of the upward pressure on prices is the result of a mismatch between booming demand and limited supply, as businesses struggle to find both parts and workers.

“Inflation hurts Americans pocketbooks, and reversing this trend is a top priority for me,” President Joe Biden said in a statement Wednesday. “I want to reemphasize my commitment to the independence of the federal reserve to monitor inflation, and take steps necessary to combat it.”

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Wyoming’s Mining Employment Drops By More Than 25% In One Year

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s mining industry lost more than one-quarter of its jobs in the first quarter of this year compared to 2020, according to a state report.

Although the report from the state Economic Analysis Division showed the state overall posted modest gains in the numbers that point to its economic condition, some significant losses were seen in some areas, including mining employment and taxable sales.

The division’s quarterly report said Wyoming’s unemployment rate continued to decline slightly in the first quarter of the year from 2020, falling to 5.2% after peaking at a little more than 7% in the second quarter of 2020.

However, the state lost 15,730 jobs during the year, the report said, with the largest losses, 5,070, occurring in the state’s mining industry — a decline in employment of almost 26% in the industry.

“Payroll job declines occurred in nearly all industrial sectors, led by the mining (industry),” the report said. “This pivotal industry lost about 5,070 jobs, or 25.7% of its employees in a year-over-year comparison, and it showed little improvement in the quarter due to the continuation of depressed oil and natural gas activities.”

The construction industry lost 2,770 jobs during the year, while government jobs were reduced by about 2,600, the report said.

The only two sectors of the economy posting gains in employment were the retail trade and professional and business service sectors, posting job gains of 500 and 70, respectively.

However, personal income during the year grew by the highest level seen in almost 13 years, the report said, increasing by 11.4% from the first quarter of 2020.

Much of the growth, the report said, could be traced to government stimulus payments.

“Total earnings in the state shrank 2% annually in the quarter, while transfer receipts (income from government programs) increased by 89.3%, attributed to the new rounds of government pandemic relief payments from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and the American Rescue Plan Act,” the report said.

Despite the growth in personal income, taxable sales around the state declined by 4.9% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to 2020, led by a drop of more than 50% in purchases made by the mining industry, the report said.

“The mining industry contracted substantially, 56.2%, due to declining sales of equipment, supplies and services from energy exploration and production activity,” it said. “This was one of the largest year-over-year drops in Wyoming’s history.”

At the same time, sales in the retail trade sector grew by 10.7%.

“Consumer spending in retail stores such as furniture and home furnishings, liquor and sporting goods also demonstrated strong growth,” the report said.

Wyoming Tax Collections Up In April Despite Mining Slump

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Despite a decline of $6.7 million in sales and use tax collections from Wyoming’s mining sector, the state’s tax collections in April grew by $1.3 million over April 2020 figures, according to a state report.

The report “Wyoming Insight,” prepared by the state Department of Administration and Information’s Economic Analysis Division, said statewide sales tax collections increased by 2.3% over 2020 figures despite the $6.7 million decline in collections from the mining industry.

The report showed that gains in collections from the retail trade sector of almost $3.7 million and in the public administration sector of almost $2.2 million offset the decline seen in the mining industry, where collections fell by 73.3% from one year ago.

Collections from the state’s leisure and hospitality industry, hit hard by last year’s coronavirus-related shutdowns, increased by $2 million in April over April 2020, the report said, a gain of 47.4%.

Teton County saw the largest increase in sales and tax collections over last year, $2.1 million, a gain of more than 60%. It was one of 16 counties to see increases in tax collections in April over 2020. The second largest increase was seen in Laramie County, $1 million, 13.6%.

Seven counties saw their tax collections decline during the year, with Campbell County posting the biggest loss, $3.9 million, a fall of 40.5% from April 2020.

Converse County had the second largest decline at $1.4 million.

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White House Details How Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Will Benefit Wyoming

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Internet service, drinking water systems and renters in Wyoming would all benefit from President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan, according to details released Monday by the White House.

The White House laid out plans on Monday for how the American Jobs Plan would benefit each state, listing 12 areas that would be addressed in Wyoming.

The total $2 trillion package focuses on job creation, traditional infrastructure spending and investment in certain areas such as funding for care workers and for childcare to be offered at workplaces.

The American Jobs Plan action detail for Wyoming did not specify how much would come to the state for the 12 areas identified.

The White House report noted that Wyoming’s drinking water infrastructure will require $458 million in additional funding over the next 20 years and that 27,000 renters in Wyoming are “rent burdened,” meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on rent.

The Biden infrastructure plan will spend $111 billion and $200 billion on drinking water and affordable housing, respectively.

The plan would also dedicate $600 billion for highway improvements, including $115 billion for repairs to road and bridges. The report said 218 of Wyoming’s bridges and 318 miles of its highways are in “poor” condition.

The release also said 27% of Wyomingites live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure, while 63.6% live in an area where there is only one broadband provider. Around 12% of Wyoming residents do not have any internet subscription plan.

Biden’s plan would set aside almost $100 billion to bring “universal, reliable, high-speed and affordable” internet service to “every family in America.”

Biden also intended to address manufacturing in the infrastructure plan, investing $300 billion to retool and revitalize American manufacturers and provide incentives for manufacturers to invest in innovative energy projects in coal communities.

Wyoming’s congressional delegates have all come out against the plan, calling it “out-of-control” and a “political football.”

“This proposal…will hike taxes and spend trillions of dollars on the left’s radical agenda,” U.S. Sen. John Barrasso said. “Democrats are offering to hamstring the economy with higher energy bills and higher taxes for families in Wyoming and across the country. Republicans want to protect our energy dominance, and let hardworking Americans keep the money they earned.”

Appearing on Face the Nation on Sunday, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney said she couldn’t support Biden’s infrastructure plan because 94% of it has nothing to do with infrastructure.

“The National Association of Manufacturers has said that we will probably lose over a million jobs if this is enacted,” she said. “And you are certainly going to see in addition to the corporate tax increases in the bill, you’ll see middle class tax increases.”

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Wyoming Likely to Receive More Than $1B In COVID Relief

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming is likely to receive more than $1 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds later this year, Gov. Mark Gordon’s office announced Thursday.

Gordon has appointed a diverse group of stakeholders to develop a blueprint for using and distributing the funds provided to the state through the American Rescue Plan, President Joe Biden’s stimulus bill.

Current estimates show the state will receive $1.1 billion in addition to the millions of other dollars being distributed to citizens through tax rebates and to local governments and other entities from the federal government.

Gordon said he wants to identify needs and opportunities that could be addressed with the funds, as well as develop a budget to optimize the distribution.

“Wyoming will survive the impacts of COVID, drive through our period of recovery and set up the conditions for us to thrive in the long-term,” Gordon said. “It is imperative to emphasize long-term benefits because this funding has increased the debt for future generations.”

He stressed collaboration between the Legislature and the executive branch will be required to maximize the benefits of these resources for the people of Wyoming.

“I am committed to working with the Legislature to ensure that we use the funds effectively and responsibly, and that we seek to develop big ideas that will have significant and long-lasting impacts” Gordon said. “Wyoming won’t see these funds for some time, allowing us to develop a plan to ensure these dollars benefit citizens for years to come.”

The American Rescue Plan included $350 billion in aid to states and local governments. Guidance from the federal government on the use of the funds is expected to be issued in May, but unlike the federal CARES Act funding distributed last year, Wyoming will have nearly four years to spend the money.

The governor wants to focus on three areas in identifying the most significant problems Wyoming is facing due to this pandemic and then use the federal money to address the highest priorities within those areas. The areas are:

  • Health and Social Services
  • Education and Workforce
  • Economic Diversity and Economic Development

Reviews into each focus area will be led by a member of the executive branch in collaboration with the governor’s office.

Gordon stressed the importance of using these one-time funds for one-time expenses.

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Education Most Pressing Issue Of Session, Gordon Says In State of the State

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Maintaining the state’s quality of education is the most important issue facing the Legislature during its general session, Gov. Mark Gordon said Tuesday.

Gordon, in delivering his “state of the state” address to a joint session of the Legislature, told lawmakers the state could no longer rely on traditional sources of revenue to support education.

“We have relied, for years, on a funding model that is no longer sustainable,” he said. “The handwriting is on the wall. The can we kick down the road every year is broken. We have to deal with this issue.”

With the slump in the state’s mineral industry, particularly in coal production, funding for the state and its schools has dropped sharply. The school funding bill making its way through the Legislature would cut millions of dollars in how much the state gives to its schools and proposes new taxes if necessary to maintain funding.

But Gordon urged lawmakers, as they look at resolving the funding problems facing schools, to look at the issue more broadly than just one of revenue shortfalls.

“This is far more than a budget issue and I want our stakeholders and our communities to be involved in establishing a plan and vision,” he said.

Among the ideas he endorsed was a consolidation of early childhood learning programs, now found in four separate state agencies, into two agencies, the departments of Education and Family Services.

He also discussed the value of the Wyoming Innovation Network, a program launched in January to improve collaboration between the University of Wyoming and the state’s seven community colleges to better prepare students for the workplace.

“Education is changing,” he said. “Work is changing. People want, and need, more opportunities and approaches. Wyoming needs to respond. We know our financial challenges will likely necessitate it.”

Education was one of a number of issues Gordon touched upon during his address, which was delivered on the second day of the Legislature’s one-month in-person session.

Gordon also discussed the state’s financial problems, which forced him to cut state spending by $250 million in 2020 and propose another $500 million in budget cuts in his supplemental budget.

“Undeniably, we are entering more frugal times and we will have to continue to temper wants and emphasize needs,” he told lawmakers. “It is now your turn to consider how best to meet the needs of our people without burdening the generations to come.”

Much of the state’s financial troubles can be traced to slumps in the state’s energy and mineral industries and Gordon said the policies of President Joe Biden could further threaten those industries.

“In just a few weeks, through a series of executive orders, cabinet appointments and policy announcements, we are facing a clear and present threat to our long-term core industries,” he said. “All decisions from D.C. must now pass a superficial, climate litmus test that ignores jobs, cost, reliability and in many cases, real climate solutions. In D.C., they claim to follow the science, but they adopt policies that resemble science fiction.”

Gordon said while he looks forward to the contributions the wind and solar power industries can make to the state, he continues to support a diversified approach to meeting power needs.

“To achieve meaningful climate goals, and provide a resilient affordable energy supply, fossil fuels, coupled with a commitment to improving the ways we utilize them, must remain a substantial supply option,” he said. “I will continue to fight for our state’s future and defend the right to responsibly develop all of our resources.”

Despite financial problems and the continuing coronavirus pandemic, the state is strong, Gordon said, adding that the Legislature will need to remain focused to help move Wyoming past the pandemic with legislation aimed at encouraging existing businesses, economic development and luring new business to the state.

“I am sure there will be temptations to get sidetracked with politically oriented legislation, but this year, we have to keep our eye on the ball,” he said. “Because we are only going to have one chance to turn this welcomed spring into a thriving summer and a bountiful future.”

Gordon thanked the state’s residents, particularly state employees, health care workers and teachers, for their hard to work to keep the state moving during the worst of the past year.

“Today I can say, with pride and confidence, that the state of our state is strong,” he said. “Not because our economy is as robust as it was a year ago, for that’s certainly not the case. Not because we are free of this dreadful virus, because it is still a pain. Not because we have solved all of our budget problems, for we have yet to face that piper.

“It is because we are the people we are: weathered, tested and resilient,” he continued. “We are a stubborn people, unwilling to concede during tough times. It is that resolute spirit that is our greatest asset. That, I believe, will see us through these times.”

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Wyoming 211 Saw 285% Increase In Rental Assistance Requests In 2020

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming saw a 285% increase in rental assistance requests and a 95% increase in utility assistance requests in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a federal report.

The latest federal emergency rental assistance program report released by the office of Gov. Mark Gordon’s office said the state had 2,717 rental assistance requests and 2,913 utility assistance requests in 2020 as recorded in calls to Wyoming 211.

Wyoming 211 is a central number people can call to find out where they can go to obtain assistance through various state and federal programs.

The spike in demand for rent and utility assistance has continued this year, the report said, with requests received by 211 in the first six weeks of 2021 amounting to more than double the average of requests received during a six-week period in 2020.

So far this year, Wyoming 211 has seen 668 rental assistance requests and 678 utility assistance requests.

Around 40%, 899, of applicants to the state rental assistance program were denied, though, the report said.

“We believe that the federal program will apply to a wider net of families in need,” the report said.

A survey of landlords across the state showed they were owed an average of $6,800 in past due rent, totaling $458,000 owed to 72 respondents.

The respondents also reported an average of $583 owed in past due utility bills, totaling $34,000.

One utility company reported $1.6 million owed in past due utility bills from its customers since April.

Earlier this month, Gordon issued an executive order to allow the Wyoming Department of Family Services to distribute federal emergency rental assistance.

The federal government has provided the state with $200 million in funding to cover rent and utility costs for Wyomingites struggling financially due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

One county relief agency reported providing financial assistance to 349 area families unable to cover rent in the final quarter of 2020, even though 77% of such households were at least partially employed.

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Report: Wyoming Airports Contribute $2 Billion To Economy

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s 34 airports generate more than $2 billion in economic activity each year, according to a Wyoming Department of Transportation study.

The department’s 2020 review of the economic impact of Wyoming’s airports, the first conducted since 2013, also showed that the airports generate $87.7 million per year in state and local tax revenues.

The study bases its measurement of economic activity on the payroll paid employees of airports and related businesses and those arriving at or leaving from the airports and the annual spending by airports, related businesses and passengers.

It is based on figures from late 2019 and early 2020, before the coronavirus led to travel restrictions. The study was released to the public this week.

The study found that since 2013, the amount of annual economic activity linked to airports around the state has grown by about $600 million.

Some airports around the state saw “notable growth” between 2013 and 2020, while others experienced “relative declines,” the study said.

“Airports that experienced notable changes in their economic impacts generally either gained or lost one or more aviation-related business tenant, had higher or lower average annual capital investment for improvements, or had increases or decreases in their number of annual visitors,” it said.

The largest share of the economic impact from Wyoming’s airports came from visitors to the state’s nine commercial airports, defined as publicly owned airports that receive scheduled passenger service and at least 2,500 passenger boardings per year.

The study said visitors to the airports in Casper, Cheyenne, Cody, Gillette, Jackson, Laramie, Riverton, Rock Springs and Sheridan spend almost $543.8 million per year and generate $1.2 billion in economic activity.

The airport seeing the most visitors by far was the Jackson Hole Airport with 397,468 visitors per year, followed by Natrona County International Airport with 42,162.

The Jackson Hole Airport was also the airport with the biggest share of economic activity by all sectors at $1.3 billion. The Cheyenne Regional Airport was second at total economic impact of $205 million.

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Report: Wyo Taxes Collected From Education, Health Sectors More Than Double In January

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Sales tax collections from almost every sector of Wyoming’s economy declined in January from figures one year ago, but taxes generated by one sector more than doubled in the year, according to state figures.

The state’s Economic Analysis Division, in its monthly report “Wyoming Insight,” said sales and use taxes generated by the state’s education, health and “other” economic segment increased by almost $3.2 million in January over January 2020, an increase of almost 115%.

The increase was one piece of good news in a largely negative report on sales tax collections.

The report said collections from the mining industry, which includes oil and gas drilling, fell by $5.6 million in January from 2020, a decline of 54%.

The state’s leisure and hospitality industry saw its tax collections drop by 10.8%, almost $600,000, from January 2020.

Also dropping were collections from the construction, manufacturing, transportation, information and financial activities sectors.

However, the state’s wholesale trade sector saw its tax collections grow by 72.8% over 2020, almost $3.9 million.

Total sales and use collections in the state increased by $400,000 in January over January 2020, the report said, but the amount generated by some counties dropped significantly during the one-year period.

Campbell County collections, as an example, dropped by almost $1.9 million, 18.3 percent, while collections in Sublette County fell by $805,000, a drop of 42.6% from 2020.

However, some counties saw increased tax collections, such as Carbon County, where tax collections grew by almost 168% — $3.1 million — during the year. Carbon County is home to a significant wind energy project now being built.

The report also looked at the state’s unemployment rate, which increased from 3.7% in December 2019 to 4.8% in December 2020.

The report said the state’s mining industry saw the largest decline in jobs, 5,900, about 28.4%, from December 2019 to 2020.

The state’s leisure and hospitality industry and state and local governments also saw cuts in employment, with each sector losing 2,800 jobs over the year.

However, the retail trade sector added 2,300 jobs during the year and the construction industry added 1,000.

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Gordon Announces Steps to Boost Wyoming Energy, Tourism, Ag

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A series of steps aimed at improving Wyoming’s primary economic drivers has been proposed or endorsed by Gov. Mark Gordon.

Gordon on Thursday announced the actions he will take or support to improve conditions in the state’s agriculture, tourism and energy sectors.

In the area of energy production, an industry shaken by recent executive orders halting the leasing of federal land for oil and gas production, Gordon said he will pursue an “all the above” energy industry that encourages the development of new industries such carbon capture technology and rare earth production in addition to oil, gas and coal.

Along those lines, Gordon is backing proposed legislation that would grant several tax reductions to the energy sector.

“Our traditional industries will adapt and continue to provide the reliable, affordable and dispatchable power they always have, only better,” he said in a statement. “Our economic recovery will hinge on the health of these industries and their ability to adapt to changing market demands. Wyoming can continue to grow even as our mix of energy supplies evolve.”

At the same time, Gordon welcomed steps to increase the ability of the new Wyoming Energy Authority to encourage the development of non-traditional resources.

“Carbon capture and the development of carbon byproducts will be part of Wyoming’s energy future,” he said. “So too should be efforts to research extracting the rare earth elements and critical minerals associated with coal that will be needed for the batteries powering the anticipated worldwide build-out of wind and solar power.”

Gordon is also backing measures that help the state’s tourism industry, its largest employer.

He singled out House Bill 85, which would let Wyoming State Parks use money raised through entrance fees to finance a large portion of their operations and outdoor recreation rather than construction projects. The measure is expected to allow for a $1.1 million reduction in money given to the parks from the state’s general fund, its main bank account, without affecting the visitor experience.

A number of bills aimed at bolstering the state’s agriculture committee are also part of Gordon’s initiative, including one that would give the state attorney general the authority to look into antitrust matters.

The measure is a response to consolidation of 80% of the meat packing industry within four major companies. Beef producers in Wyoming have long complained the four companies have kept prices for producers artificially low.

The state now lacks the authority to investigate such charges.

Gordon is also backing HB 52, which would increase Wyoming meat products used by school districts to feed students.

The governor said he is also working with legislators to expand the state’s meat processing capacity.

“This is only a part of an ambitious initiative focused on adding value to products across the entire spectrum of agricultural enterprise,” he said. “This effort is essential to grow this key part of our economy.”

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UW, Colleges Launch Collaborative Effort To Improve Wyoming’s Economy

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The University of Wyoming and the state’s seven community colleges are launching a collaborative effort to better prepare Wyoming students for the state’s evolving economy and encourage entrepreneurship, officials announced Monday.

Gov. Mark Gordon, in a news conference with UW President Ed Seidel and presidents from the state’s community colleges, announced the launch of the Wyoming Innovation Network, a joint effort by all the schools to focus more on Wyoming’s economic needs.

“The economic challenges Wyoming is facing are going to require us to develop and deploy innovative solutions,” Gordon said. “It is critical to have this coordinated effort from our state’s institutions of higher education.”

Under the WIN program, community colleges and UW will work to align courses to prepare students for industries that will need skilled workers in the future, such as tourism, advanced manufacturing and digital technology, Gordon said.

He added by working together, the schools will also help students become entrepreneurs and help make Wyoming more attractive to new businesses by making sure they have access to a skilled workforce.

“Our goal is a unified effort that will help launch this economic development as well as strengthen our economy and help our workers succeed here in Wyoming,” Gordon said.

The initiative will also look at ways to increase the availability of higher education to students who might not be otherwise able to access it, perhaps through digital means, he said.

The effort will require the UW and community colleges to develop closer relationships with private industry, Seidel said, both to determine what skills employers need and to seek financial support for the effort.

Seidel and the presidents of the community college have already formed a working group which will meet regularly to determine how to move forward with items such as making educational programs align and making sure community college students have access to the university.

Darren Divine, president of Casper College, pointed out the university and community colleges are already working along those lines, such as with the development of a bachelor’s degree in applied science and the bachelor’s of science in nursing.

In addition, a program announced Monday will allow community college students to know exactly how their college credits will apply should they attend the UW, Divine said.

“The community colleges and the university are very cohesive and aligned more now than ever before,” he said. “This new effort will enhance Wyoming’s ability to meet the challenges created by our current economic environment.”

There will be a cost connected to the effort, Gordon said, but he said his direction to the presidents was to look at what could be done and then perhaps look to sources other than the state for at least part of the funding.

“Then comes the part of how do we raise the funds,” he said. “We’ve got to reach out to the private sector. That’s something that Wyoming is going to have to do more of. We can’t depend entirely on the (legislative” block grant, on what the Legislature does.

“What is important here is a new direction in a way to collaborate among our institutions, to work from the ground up,” he said. “As money comes its direction, as it proves its worth, then more investment will result in more success.”

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Gordon Launching Oil, Gas Economic Recovery Program This Week

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is launching a program this week that is designed to help with Wyoming’s economic recovery and to boost employment in the oil and gas industry.

The Energy Rebound Program will utilize up to $15 million in CARES Act funding to provide business relief targeted towards drilled, but uncompleted oil and gas wells, wells that were unable to be recompleted and plugging and abandonment projects which could not be finished due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

“When global demand for oil plummeted due to COVID, work stopped almost immediately in the oil and gas industry in Wyoming,” Gordon said. “This program is tailored to provide opportunities for employees who lost jobs when drilling ceased.”

The program will reimburse operators for work done on completions, recompletions, workovers or plugging and abandonments before Dec. 30, up to $500,000 per project.

Operators who were unable to perform or finish projects in these categories for wells they operate due to the effects of the virus, and who can spend funds before Dec. 30, are encouraged to apply.

The Wyoming Business Council will start accepting applications at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. Applications will be accepted through 10 a.m. on Nov. 23rd.

Operators are encouraged to start preparing information for the application, including basic well data, type of project (completion, recompletion/workover or P&A), estimated start and end dates of projects, estimated production, costs of projects and other information.

Priority will be given to projects that provide the greatest immediate economic and employment benefit to Wyoming.

Other factors include, but are not limited to: estimated time of start and completion of the project; completeness of the application; estimated amount of increased production of oil and gas; and ability to commence P&A projects in a timely manner.

“We recognize this is a short window for applications, however, these funds are for projects that were planned, but could not be completed due to the effects of COVID-19. Companies who were ready to roll last March should have the information in hand. We will maximize the impact these dollars have on restoring economic and employment opportunities in Wyoming” said Randall Luthi, Chief Energy Advisor to Governor Gordon.

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Despite Improvement, Gordon Says Wyoming’s Fiscal Picture Still Concerning

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Despite recent improvements in the Wyoming’s financial outlook, the state still faces some major challenges, Gov. Mark Gordon said Monday.

Gordon’s comments came in response to a report by state fiscal analysts that showed the state’s main bank account, the General Fund, will fall about $451 million short of what is needed to pay for government operations in the current biennium.

The estimate provided by the state’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Group showed a deficit that was $426 million less than what had been estimated in a report issued in May.

However, Gordon said the state still must deal with significant drops in funding.

“I have a fundamental belief that we must live within our means,” he said. “Wyoming suffered its greatest budget shortfall in history this year … By any stretch of the imagination this crisis is unique, but it is real and we must be prepared.”

The report also showed that the state will end its current biennium about $300 million short of what is needed to continue current funding levels for schools.

Gordon earlier this year asked state agencies to cut their budgets by 10% and he said he is still asking agencies to consider further cuts of 10% to make sure state spending stays within its revenues. He noted that the state’s savings will not be sufficient to offset budget shortfalls in the long-term.

“I am not interested in building a budget that just tries to get us to next year,” he said. “Wyoming, if she wants to remain competitive and productive, must live within her means and structure herself for economic opportunity.”

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Gordon Making More CARES Funds Available For Wyoming Businesses, Nonprofits Next Week

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is allocating remaining CARES Act funds to help Wyoming businesses and nonprofits with ongoing coronavirus-related losses and expenses.

The Wyoming Business Council is finalizing two new funds for the COVID-19 Business Relief Program: the Agriculture Fund and the Endurance Fund. Applications for both funds will be accepted from Nov. 2 through Nov. 18.

“The effects of COVID-19 haven’t disappeared from our communities and businesses,” Gordon said. “There are impacts still being felt by business owners, nonprofit organizations, and agriculture producers.

“Right from the start we worked with the Legislature to pace our programs so that they would reach each sector as the needs became clear,” he continued. “The Business Council will distribute these federal funds where they’re needed to help continue our economic recovery.”

The Agriculture Fund has $90 million reserved to support Wyoming farmers and ranchers who have experienced business interruptions due to the coronavirus pandemic. Awards up to $250,000 are available for Wyoming agricultural producers who were established on or before March 13.

The Endurance Fund will have at least $24 million set aside for businesses and nonprofits to cover COVID-19 related losses and expenses. Money available in this fund may increase as unused CARES Act dollars from other programs may be diverted into it.

Awards up to $250,000 will be available for all affected Wyoming businesses. Eligible nonprofits in Wyoming include 501(c)(3), 501(c)(6), 501(c)(12) and 501(c)(19) with no more than 50% of time spent on lobbying.

“These two funds serve important purposes as we near the deadline of the current CARES Act funding,” Business Council CEO Josh Dorrell said. “First, because of the seasonality of agriculture production, this $90 million relief fund allows farmers and ranchers to better capture 2020 losses and expenses related to the pandemic.”

“Second, many Wyoming businesses and nonprofits are not out of the woods yet, and this opportunity for another round of funding will help with the losses businesses have continued to endure.”

Eligible entities may apply once for money from the funds. Recipients of previous Business Relief Program awards (Interruption, Relief and Mitigation funds) may apply if they have had eligible losses or expenses since their previous application dates.

In May, the Wyoming Legislature created three programs to distribute $325 million in federal CARES Act funding to Wyoming businesses and nonprofits that have experienced hardship related to the coronavirus crisis.

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Legislature Will Have To Examine What Services Not To Offer, Gordon Says

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The state’s next round of budget cuts will require the Legislature to carefully examine what services the state should stop providing, Gov. Mark Gordon said Wednesday.

Gordon, during a news briefing, said the next cuts will start legislators on the difficult job of deciding which state tasks are required by state law and the Constitution.

“The implications of the next set of budget cuts are going to require that the Legislature not pass new laws about new things we’re going to do, but start considering the things they no longer want government to do,” he said. “Those are going to be hard discussions.”

Gordon already cut about $250 million from the state’s two-year budget in August to offset a projected $1.5 billion shortfall in state revenues. However, the cuts were only the first in a series needed to bring state spending in line with revenue projections.

Gordon said revenue projections prepared by state fiscal experts in July showed some unexpected improvement in the revenue picture,  and when combined with the cuts he made in August — which amounted to a reduction in state spending of about 10% — things looked a little more promising.

However, he said more cuts will be needed, even as the impacts of the August reductions are being felt.

“There are services that are being decreased,” he said. “There are people who have lost their jobs. There is consolidation that is happening.”

A new report on state revenues is expected next week and Gordon said it will help state officials get a decent idea of what must be done going forward.

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Study: Wyoming Residents Don’t Need Loans (As Much)

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming came in almost dead last in a recent ranking of states where residents need loans due to the coronavirus.

According to personal finance website WalletHub, Wyoming was ranked 49th of the 50 states and the District of Columbia when it came to states whose residents were in the greatest need of some type of loan due to the coronavirus.

The loans ranged from payday to home equity.

Wyoming was 51st when it came to the number of times residents searched the Internet for information related to loans in general, but was No. 11 for searches regarding payday loans.

Wyoming was followed in the overall ranking by North Dakota and Alaska, respectively, in 50th and 51st place.

New York, Virginia and Washington state were the three highest-ranking states, meaning their residents needed loans the most due to the pandemic.

WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across four key metrics, which combined internal credit report data with data on yhe increased use of Google to search for three loan-related terms.

The analysis compared loan-related search interest values for August.

George Mason University professor Frank Shafroth suggested going to a trusted friend or relative if a person needs cash quickly instead of using a payday loan service. If that doesn’t work, he recommended a credit union.

“If a person has a trusted financial institution or bank, I would suggest meeting with a loan officer to assess what the credit implications might be,” Shafroth said.

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Wyoming Sales Down In Second Quarter, But Up In Retail

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

While sales for most of Wyoming’s industries declined in the second quarter of the year year, recorded online sales actually went up, due largely to a change in tax rules, according to a state agency.

The Wyoming Department of Administration and Information, in its quarterly report on the state’s economic conditions, said taxable sales across the state declined by almost 13% from the second quarter of 2019.

However, sales in the retail sector in the period from April through June actually increased by 6% over the same period last year, the report said, due largely to new laws requiring the collection of sales taxes on online sales. The department uses tax collections to monitor sales.

“This increase was mostly attributed to the increasing amount of submission from remote sellers, which is a result of a new legislation on collections of sales tax by marketplace facilitators,” the report said.

Overall, taxable sales in the state declined during the quarter by 12.8% from the same period one year ago to total $4.1 billion, the report said.

The largest reduction in sales was in the state’s mining industry, where the purchases of equipment, supplies and services fell by 53%.

“(This) was the largest year-over-year drop since the first quarter of 2016 — middle of the previous turndown,” the report said.

Sales in the leisure and hospitality industry dropped by 34.6%, the report said, while sales in the manufacturing and financial services sector fell by about 20%.

More than half the state’s counties saw declines in taxable sales during the period, the report said, with Sublette County seeing a 61.3% drop.

But Carbon County’s taxable sales more than doubled over last year’s figures.

“Carbon County experienced the largest growth of 108.6%, mostly reflecting a boost in activities of a wind power project,” the report said.

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Wyoming Lost 25K Jobs During Second Quarter Of 2020

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming lost more than 25,000 jobs in the second quarter of fiscal 2020, a recent analysis confirmed.

The Wyoming Department of Administration and Information released its economic summary of the second quarter on Monday, which ran from February through April. The summary noted that compared to the same period in 2019, Wyoming’s employment fell by 8.9%, or 25,890 jobs, during the peak of the economic shutdown caused by the pandemic during the second quarter of the year.

Nationally, employment declined by 11.3% during the same period..

Wyoming’s unemployment rate of 8.9% during the period was the highest seen in the state since the first quarter of 1987. The leisure and hospitality industry (mainly restaurant and lodging) saw the biggest hit, with 10,700 jobs lost during the quarter.

The state’s mining industry also saw major losses, with about one-fifth of the industry’s employees being laid off due to “plunging” oil and natural gas prices that were affected by low energy demand caused by restrictions on businesses and travel.

Manufacturing was the only industry in Wyoming that wasn’t affected by the pandemic, and employment increased slightly compared to 2019, the report said.

However, Wyoming’s total personal income (income received by all residents from all sources) grew by 7.7% this year, the largest increase seen since the first quarter of 2018. The U.S. also saw a personal income grow by 10.4%.

The report also noted that visitation was down at both national parks during the second quarter, but this was due to the complete closure of both park because of the pandemic.

Lodging sales for the state were down by 49.6% compared to one year ago, which again was caused by the park closures, as well as a decline in mineral activities in the state.

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Wyoming Relief Fund Demand Nearly Over Available Amount

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

With the deadline nearing for Wyoming businesses and nonprofit organizations to apply for federal funds to offset coronavirus losses, the state had already paid out more than $120 million for assistance through the two of its programs still running, according to state figures.

Numbers posted on the website showed that as of Sept. 10, the state had distributed $123.4 million through its coronavirus business relief and mitigation programs.

The numbers were posted as the state neared its deadline of Tuesday for businesses and nonprofits to apply for the money made available through the federal coronavirus relief program.

The Legislature, during a special session in May, approved three programs to distribute $325 million to Wyoming businesses affected by the coronavirus and related business shutdowns.

The first program, the Coronavirus Interruption Stipend, ended on July 2 after paying out $98.7 million to almost 4,000 businesses. Each business could receive up to $50,000 as relief for losses suffered because of business interruptions caused by public health orders adopted to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Another $39.3 million has been distributed through a program designed to help businesses forced to close by the public health orders that may have been unable to apply for relief through the first Coronavirus Interruption Stipend program or that had losses exceeding what they received through the interruption stipend program.

One of the other two programs still running, the Coronavirus Business Relief Stipend, makes up to $300,000 available to cover coronavirus-related losses.

The Wyoming Business Council, in a news release, said as of Friday, 2,480 businesses had applied for $182.7 million from the relief fund.

The second program, the Coronavirus Mitigation Stipend, makes up to $500,000 available to compensate businesses for expenses directly related to coronavirus, such as the purchase of personal protection equipment and the costs of extra sanitization measures.

As of Friday, 629 applicants had requested $28.3 million from the mitigation stipend program, the WBC said.

“The demand for the relief fund is very close to exceeding available dollars, while the mitigation fund requests have slowed to a trickle, potentially leaving millions of unused dollars,” said Josh Dorrell, the WBC’s chief executive officer. “We have decided to close applications in order to reallocate leftover funds to best serve the ongoing needs of Wyoming businesses later in the year.”

The state received $1.25 billion as its share of the federal coronavirus relief program. Under terms of the program, the money must be spent by the end of the year.

Gov. Mark Gordon said last week the state has spent about $829 million and is looking at other programs to provide assistance using the money, including funding for Internet service improvement in Wyoming’s rural areas, sending some of the money to local governments and providing funding to help meat processing companies in Wyoming expand their operations.

Wyoming Applies Federal Coronavirus Relief Funds To Internet, Processing Plants

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Two programs set up to help Wyoming businesses in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic are almost out of money, but the distribution of federal relief funds to help the state is continuing, Gov. Mark Gordon said Wednesday.

Gordon, during a briefing, said the state is working to use the federal coronavirus relief money for items such as broadband service improvement, medical facility upgrades and agriculture relief as the two business relief programs still in operation draw to a close.

“Our two business relief programs are still open, but funding is beginning to run low,” he said. “These funds are open for small businesses and we are trying to be as accommodating with small businesses as we possibly can. We want to be sure the people of Wyoming and businesses of Wyoming have every opportunity to relieve some of the burdens placed on them by COVID-19.”

Of the $1.25 billion sent to the state through congressional action, the state has distributed $829 million, Gordon said.

Much of the money has been distributed through three business relief programs approved by the Legislature during a special session earlier this year.

Of the two programs still in operation, one is designed to offset the impacts on Wyoming businesses with up to 50 employees of business restrictions imposed to help limit the spread of coronavirus and the other is designed to compensate companies for the direct costs of dealing with the coronavirus, such as the purchase of protective equipment.

The state is required to spend the full $1.25 billion by the end of the year and the Legislature gave Gordon the authority starting Sept. 15 to spend any of the funds not already spent.

Gordon said one program that will use money will launch next week, when meat processing plant owners will be able to apply for funds to expand their operations. Gordon said meat producers around the state have been able to have their meat processed because of shortages of processing facilities.

The state has also used some of the money to expand broadband Internet service to rural areas of Wyoming.

“I’m pleased to report that some of the most rural parts of Wyoming will now have connectivity when these projects are completed,” he said.

The state has already started work to get some of the federal money into the hands of local governments and medical facilities

Wyoming Economic Indicators Up from May, Still Down From 2019

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The indicators that point to Wyoming’s economic health improved slightly in June from May, but the state’s economic health remains worse than it was one year ago, according to a state report.

The state’s Economic Analysis Division, in its regular report on “Wyoming Economic Indicators” said unemployment rates, tax income in the mineral and hospitality sectors and total employment were all below where they stood in June of 2019.

“The Wyoming Economic Health Index reported an index value of 97.3 in June 2020,” the report said. “This value was higher than the May 2020 value of 95.5, but significantly lower than the June 2019 value of 108.”

However, the report also said declines in the state’s unemployment rate in recent months are a good sign for the economy.

“These improved unemployment rates over the last couple of months are a bright sign that the recovery from the Covid-19 business shutdowns has begun,” it said.

Each of the four indicators fell during the year, the report said, with sales and use tax revenue from mining dropping by more than 66% to total $3.8 million in June, compared to about $11.8 million in June of 2019.

In addition to economic difficulties created by the coronavirus pandemic, the state has been hit with a collapse in coal prices that has led to declines in its coal industry.

Lodging tax income also fell from 2019, dropping by 46.2% to total $1.7 million in June. Although the income was higher than it was in May, it also marked the fourth consecutive month that lodging tax revenues dipped below the previous year’s levels by 35% or more, the report said, due largely to the coronavirus.

“These large decreases in collections from lodging tax are not surprising because of the stay-at-home orders and lack of travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” it said.

The state’s unemployment rate of 7.6% in June was a drop from the rate of 8.8% seen in May, but it remained considerably higher than the rate of 3.6% seen in June 2019.

In addition, the number of people with jobs in June totaled 266,300, an increase of 2,500 from May, the report said, but a decline of 24,100 from June 2019.

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Budget Cuts Could Reduce Medicaid Providers, Wyoming Health Department Says

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Reductions in the amount of state money paid health care providers through Medicaid made as a way to tackle the state’s budget shortfall could result in providers leaving the program, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

The department, in a report outlining the impacts of its $28 million reduction in benefits it pays for health care for some Wyoming residents, said the reductions will lead to limits on services in some cases.

“In some cases, some Medicaid providers may choose to leave the program entirely, which may create access issues in some more rural or frontier areas of the state,” the department said in a report on its recent budget cuts.

The Health Department was the hardest hit by budget cuts outlined by Gov. Mark Gordon recently to offset a $1.5 billion shortfall in revenues predicted to occur during the current two-year budget period.

Of almost $254.5 million in cuts in spending from the state’s “general fund,” its main bank account, the Department of Health saw the largest reduction, almost $89.1 million.

More than a quarter of that amount, almost $28.2 million, will come from cuts in reimbursements to health care providers from the state.

The cuts would be matched with a $28.2 million reduction in federal funds.

The Department of Health, in its report on the reduction, said the spending cuts would come from a 2.5% decrease in reimbursement rates for health care providers and through service reductions.

The cuts are likely to cause a decline in Medicaid involvement by health care providers, the department said.

“Various second-order effects are likely as well, including Wyoming Medicaid providers limiting services to Medicaid members or in some cases no longer accepting new Medicaid clients,” the report said.

Another spending reduction of almost $3.7 million will be seen in the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program or “CHIP,” a program that provides low-cost health care for eligible children.

The program had been managed by a private company, but the state received no bids to continue the program during the most recent renewal period.

As a result, the program will now be run through the state, with claims processed through the Medicaid Management Information System, the Health Department said, with lower Medicaid reimbursement rates for health care providers.

The change will save the state $3.7 million without reducing benefits to covered individuals, the department said, although some patients may have to find new health care providers.

“A small number of clients may need to change providers if (the Health Department) cannot convince the providers to enroll due to lower rates,” the report said.

Federal funds to the state to help pay for the program will also be reduced by about $6.8 million, the report said.

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Gordon: State Does Not Have The Rainy Day Funds To Fix Revenue Crisis

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In a somber press conference on Wednesday, Gov. Mark Gordon sought to clear up the misperception that the state has enough money saved up to fix the state’s revenue crisis.

The governor said the notion that the state has large sums of money “stuffed away in coffee cans” isn’t true and the use of emergency funds won’t solve the problem.

“Sure we can spend the entire rainy day account down over the next two years but then what?,” Gordon said.

“Many people may be thinking we’ve got all this money in permanent funds and other accounts,” he said. “We’ve got to get [the budget picture] down to a very simple approach so people understand there just isn’t that much money.”

To that end, he said the state needs to plan five years out instead of the biennial process so “we know in five years we still have a state we can run.”

“We are approaching this cliff and we don’t have a way to affect a slowdown or a pause,” he said of Wyoming’s education funding mechanism.

Gordon said he hoped new legislators — many of whom ran on anti-tax pledges during the recent primary campaign — take time to learn about the budget and that government then clearly communicate to the public.

 “The people of Wyoming need to be assured that what they see in the budget documents is exactly what the state has,” he said.

Gordon said he hoped the public understands the severity of the problem before the state runs completely out of money.

“I know there are several people in the Legislature who feel this (running out of money) has to happen before anyone looks at this,” he said. “But the state has been through this a time or two before.”

He said he spoke to both former Gov. Mike Sullivan and Gov. Jim Geringer about the budget crisis acknowledging that each of them faced similar challenges.

An issue is trust, he said. 

“I do think people in Wyoming have got to be satisfied that we are out of money,” he said.

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Reason For Optimism In Wyoming’s Future, Gordon Says

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Despite the economic problems that have forced Wyoming to make deep budget cuts to its government agencies, there is reason for optimism in the state’s future, Gov. Mark Gordon said Wednesday.

Gordon, speaking during a news conference, said the state is actually in good condition in several areas, including its low coronavirus infection and unemployment rate, and has been helped by actions that have been taken to provide assistance to portions of the state’s economy.

“This is a challenging time, but I do believe there are reasons for optimism,” he said. “There are bright days ahead because of the sacrifices we are making. Those are having positive effects and those positive effects will have a ripple into our economy.”

Gordon pointed specifically to Wyoming’s low rate of positive results on coronavirus tests, which are averaging 2.45%, and to the state’s unemployment rate of 7.1%, well below the national average of 10.5%.

The state has directed more than $300 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to the state’s small businesses and has worked to issue contracts for the cleanup and reclamation of old coal mines and oil wells, he said, to help offset losses seen in the state’s coal, oil and natural gas industries.

“This year we are spending more on more (reclamation) projects,” he said. “It is anticipated that we will spend more than $200 million this year.”

Gordon also noted that Wyoming was one of the few states to allow its state and county fairs to proceed.

Such forward steps will be important as the state continues its work to climb out of the economic problems created by the coronavirus pandemic and energy industry slump, he said.

“Right now Wyoming feels pretty good,” he said. “We’re doing what Wyoming does. Let’s just be mindful about it. Let’s make sure we have a successful fall. That’s what’s going to be important for us to get out of this economic slump.”

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Gordon: Budget Cuts Will Be Devastating And Just Tip Of The Iceberg

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The first round of Wyoming government budget cuts as proposed by Gov. Mark Gordon has been finalized, totaling more than $250 million, with an additional $80 million in cuts to maintenance of state buildings.

The 10% cuts to state agencies, boards and commissions will have significant effects on Wyomingites and their communities because they will affect important services that people depend on and will reduce general fund dollars that enter the private sector, Gordon said Wednesday as he announced the cut.

Gordon said the state’s largest five agencies would see the largest cuts, totaling almost $200 million.

“These cuts that we have made are devastating, but necessary given the state’s fiscal picture,” Gordon said in a news release. “A third of our revenue has dried up since the beginning of the year. I am constitutionally required to balance the budget. Our state cannot deficit spend the way the Federal Government can. Just to manage this crisis, difficult decisions had to be made.”

The governor began his Wednesday press conference with remarks about the budget, detailing some of the cuts that have been made. He noted it’s taken about two months to decide on what would be best to cut in the first phase.

He also asked the Wyoming school districts to make voluntary 10% budget cuts, although he noted it would make for difficult decisions.

The Wyoming Department of Health, with the state’s largest budget, will see a 9% cut totaling approximately $90 million.

WDH programs facing cuts and elimination include those that serve senior citizens, disabled individuals and those with very low incomes, Gordon said.

Among the cuts planned are the phased elimination of the Wyoming Home Services program, an Aging Division program which provides services to individuals who are at risk of premature institutionalization; the elimination of some immunization funding for children; and a reduction in funding for early childhood developmental and educational programs. 

UW and the state’s community colleges had their budgets cut by 10% as well.

These cuts will mean reduced higher education options for Wyoming students, Gordon said. One program eliminated was Wyoming Works, an initiative the governor supported to help prepare adult students to enter the workforce. 

The Department of Family Services is eliminating vacant positions in the state office and field offices across the state, including at the Boys School in Worland and the Girls School in Sheridan.

Additionally, this means fewer people will be able to work on foster care and child protection Gordon said.

DFS cuts also mean the defunding of the Community Juvenile Services Boards, county-based diversion programs to prevent juvenile incarceration, and the burial program, which pays up to $500 to funeral homes for burial expenses for the indigent. 

The Department of Corrections will also see significant cuts to programs that keep the public safe. Parole agents will now be required to supervise additional offenders, and programs that help inmates re-enter Wyoming communities and not reoffend will see reductions in funding. 

The Department of Health, Corrections, Family Services, the University of Wyoming and the community colleges make up two-thirds of the state’s general fund budget. 

The governor is considering options for addressing the remaining $500 million shortfall.

State agencies have already developed proposals on further cuts to services, and the governor is working with legislators on other options, all of which require legislative action. 

On top of these cuts, Gordon has put furloughs in place for higher paid state employees and is consolidating human resources across the state government. 

“None of the cuts are easy, nor are they designed to highlight critical programs for political effect,” Gordon said. “These are the types of cuts we will continue to have to make to get our budget in balance. These hurt, and what comes next hurts more. I recognize the impact these cuts will have on Wyoming families and I am truly saddened that we had to make them.”

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Occidental Petroleum Skips Wyoming, Sells Land To Orion Mine

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Occidental Petroleum ended weeks of anticipation Wednesday when the company announced that it would sell land grant assets in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah to Orion Mine Finance.

The transaction will amount to approximately $1.33 billion and is expected to close in the fourth quarter this year.

The purchase includes 4.5 million mineral acres and 1 million surface acres. In this transaction, Orion is acquiring mineral rights to the world’s largest known trona deposit.

Trona is a mineral used to make soda ash, the principal ingredient in baking soda, global glass manufacturing, pollution control systems, as well as other critical chemical applications.

Gov. Mark Gordon’s office announced last week that its bid for the Occidental land was on hold, as the company was in negotiations with another bidder whose name wasn’t announced at the time.

The governor and other members of the State Loan and Investment Board planned to use Wyoming’s Permanent Mineral Trust Funds for the purchase.

Gordon announced in a release Wednesday that he was disappointed about the outcome of the sale.

“I am disappointed that Wyoming was not the ultimate buyer of the Union Pacific Land Grant lands and minerals,” he said in a statement. “We worked hard to prepare a responsible, good faith bid, which we believe would have augmented Wyoming’s investment returns, bringing in more revenue to keep taxes in Wyoming low.

“Had Wyoming’s bid been accepted, the rate of return was expected to be in the range of 8% to 12%, depending on the assets and how quickly the economy recovers. This predicted rate of return is currently better than our current average rate of return.”

The purchase was expected to provide benefits to Wyoming citizens by making it easier to manage public lands in southwestern Wyoming and providing more and better public access for recreation and hunting on the land. It was also seen as a way to give Wyoming more flexibility to manage the land for multiple uses, including grazing and the development traditional and non-traditional energy resources.

“We felt the purchase would have been a good investment at the bid we submitted,” state Treasurer Curt Meier said in the release. “However, we believe our existing investment opportunities will also serve the needs of the state and its constituents. Exceeding our target bid was a risk we were not willing to take.”

According to the Wednesday release, Occidental will retain all cash flow from the currently producing oil and gas properties on the land, which are primarily cost-free royalties.

“This transaction significantly advances the progress against our $2 billion plus divestiture target for 2020,” Occidental President and CEO Vicki Hollub in a company news release. “We will retain our core oil and gas assets in the Rockies, including the prolific DJ Basin in Colorado and the highly prospective Powder River Basin in Wyoming.”

The acquired properties will be held under Sweetwater Royalties, a new base metals and industrial minerals royalty company, which will be managed by Orion.

“Acquiring high-quality producing royalties is a core component of our investment strategy and we are thrilled to be partnering with Occidental in this transaction,” Oskar Lewnowski, chief investment officer of Orion, said in the release. “This transaction offers significant royalty cash flow from the trona mines and has strong potential for mineral development.” He added, “As a firm we recognize the importance of US mineral and energy production and are pleased to be able to offer our support to the existing world-class operators and their associated communities.”

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Gordon Launches Wyoming CARES Funds Transparency Website

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon has created a page on the “Wyoming Sense” state spending transparency website outlining how the state is using federal dollars awarded through federal coronavirus relief.

As of Thursday, Gordon has allocated more than $710 million of the $1.25 billion in federal funds Wyoming was provided by Congress to address the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

During a special legislative session in May, the Wyoming Legislature provided guidelines as to how that money should be spent, splitting the funds into three disbursements.

The first amounted to $450 million and was made available for allocation on May 25.

The second amounted to $400 million and was made available for allocation on July 15.

The third will amount to another $400 million and won’t become eligible for allocation until Sept. 15.

The CARES Act spending page breaks down spending into nine categories:

  • Economic/business relief ($327.3 million);
  • Education resilience ($110.5 million);
  • Broadband and communications infrastructure ($100 million);
  • Testing and contact tracing ($60 million);
  • Unemployment and Workers Compensation ($42.2 million);
  • Local governments ($35.9 million);
  • Eviction prevention and support ($15 million);
  • State agencies’ COVID response ($12.2 million);
  • Judicial and legislative branches ($7 million).

The page,, includes additional details on each category, along with helpful links and additional resources. It will be updated regularly as additional funds are allocated. 

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Wyoming Banks Examine Ways To Ease Coin Shortage

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

There seem to be a lot of shortages right now – shortage of work, shortage of workers, shortage of new cars in car lots, and even a shortage of coins.

Derek Moore with First Bank of Wyoming says the holdup is at the federal level.

“There’s limitations on what banks can actually order in terms of coin,” Moore said, adding that in his years in banking, he’s never come across this situation before. 

Garrett Growney with Pinnacle Bank explained that the problem has been brought on by the slowdown in the economy.

With the shortage of general commerce out there, a lot of coin has not made it back into the Federal Reserve system,” he says.

But Pinnacle Bank got creative. In order to assure an adequate supply for local businesses, it launched a contest to get people to bring in change that they may have been gathering at home – and the chance to win a $50 Visa gift card as the prize.

“There’s a demand for coin,” Growney said. “You’ll see some businesses around town not taking coin transactions. So we saw that coming and have run a promotion so that we could have coin, so that our customers can access it.”

According to the Federal Reserve’s website, the entity is working with the U.S. Mint and others in the industry on solutions, but the agency said that since mid-June, the Mint has been operating at full production capacity and is on track to mint 1.65 billion coins per month for the remainder of the year.

Growney says he doesn’t believe the change shortage is an indication that the government is moving to a “cashless society” as alleged by some conspiracy theorists.

“I know there are some conspiracy theories out there,” he said. “But my thought would be that this would be a very cumbersome way to go about it.”

And he pointed out that there’s still plenty of change circulating.“It’s still getting used,” he said, speaking of coins. “I’m not aware of any effort to do away with it.”

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Wyoming’s Budget Picture Improves Slightly, But Still Horrible

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming ended its last fiscal year in a little better condition than predicted earlier, according to a report issued Wednesday by the state’s leading financial officers.

But Gov. Mark Gordon urged Wyoming residents not to forget that the state still faces major shortfalls moving forward.

“Even if this report suggests moderate improvements … our state’s fiscal situation remains dire,” he said. “We must still exercise budget discipline to balance our budget.”

The report issued by Consensus Revenue Estimating Group was an update to one issued in May, when the panel of fiscal officers for various state agencies predicted a shortfall for the 2021-22 biennium of up to $1.5 billion.

The report also predicted the state would end the 2020 fiscal year on June 30 with $70 million less in its general fund, its main bank account, than originally believed because of declines in mineral tax income and sales and use tax income expected to accompany the coronavirus pandemic.

However, Wednesday’s update said income for the state ran slightly ahead of the May projections.

“The current pace of actual revenues … suggest that the May 2020 revenue forecasts are almost certain to be exceeded,” the report said.

For the state’s general fund, its main bank account, deposits were expected to total about $1.06 billion for the year ending June 30, about $50 million ahead of May’s projections.

The biggest part of that income is from sales and use taxes, which were expected to total $440.6 million in 2020, compared to forecasts of $418 million in May.

“Even during the darkest economic period of pandemic to date – the second quarter of 2020 – certain retail trade businesses such as building materials and garden supplies, grocery stores, sporting goods stores, warehouse club and super centers still demonstrated year-over-year growth in sales, offsetting some of the substantial declines in leisure and hospitality services,” the report said.

The state’s income from mineral taxes also exceeded estimates by about $33 million, the report said.

“Severance tax collections are above the May 2020 … projections, mainly attributed to the less drastic declines in both oil and natural gas production and quicker rebound of oil prices compared to levels projected by CREG,” it said.

However, Gordon, in a news release, said residents must remember that income for the state’s main bank accounts in 2020 still were 17.6% below the previous year’s totals.

“We are still well below what we budgeted for in January,” he said. “We will continue to face significant challenges going forward and will need to continue to make tough decisions about how we meet this budget shortfall.”

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Wyoming Budget Shortfall Improves to Negative $1.4 Billion

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

An update of a report projecting revenues for the state will show a slight improvement over earlier predictions, Gov. Mark Gordon said Tuesday.

However, Gordon, speaking during a news conference, said the numbers to be presented in the latest report from the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group will still paint a gloomy picture for the operation of state agencies.

“While it’s improved and while we’re very happy about the improvement, we also face significant challenges going forward,” he said. “Virtually every part of Wyoming is still going to have to look at what they’re going to have to do to meet this budget shortfall.

In May, the CREG, a group of state financial officers, estimated the state’s revenue for the coming two years would fall up to $1.5 billion short of what is needed to pay for the state’s biennium budget approved by the Legislature in March.

Gordon said the latest report, to be released in the next few days, will show that shortfall dropping by about $100 million.

“It’s not back to what we were hoping for, but it’s an improvement,” he said.

However, Gordon noted the shortfall is still large enough to equal or exceed the budget of entire state departments.

“If we eliminated all of (the Wyoming Department of Transportation), if there was no snowplowing, no road construction, no highway patrol, we wouldn’t have dented that,” he said. “If we cut our education general fund in half, we would barely touch that deficit that we’re having to deal with.”

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Wyoming’s First Digital Asset Bank To Open In October

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s first bank for cryptocurrencies will likely open in October, months ahead of its originally scheduled opening of some time in 2021.

According to a news release from Avanti Financial Group Inc., founded by Wyoming native and blockchain advocate Caitlin Long, the group received formal notice from the Wyoming Division of Banking that Avanti’s application for a bank charter was accepted on July 15.

Avanti applied for a bank charter under Wyoming’s special-purpose depository institution law. It will likely do business under the name “Avanti Bank and Trust.”

Long and the Avanti team expect to be open for banking business as early as October.

“Our charter application incorporates truly novel ideas that have received detailed scrutiny from multiple regulators. It is the culmination of an enormous effort by Avanti’s fantastic team — several thousand hours of planning and work with regulators, and hundreds of pages of supporting policies, procedures and documentation,” Long said in the release. 

The company expects to serve as a “compliant bridge to the U.S. dollar payments system and a custodian of digital assets that can meet the strictest level of institutional custody standards.”

Avanti will be required to fully comply with all applicable laws and regulations, including federal “know your customer,” anti-money laundering and related laws and regulations. It will also comply with Wyoming’s SPDI and digital asset laws, which include requirements that fiat deposits be 100% reserved and that Avanti meet the strictest consumer protections in the digital asset industry.

Avanti also announced a new product to modernize U.S. dollar payments, called Avit, which is also nicknamed the “stablecoin disruptor.” Avit will only be able to be issued by a bank and will likely be treated as a cash equivalent.

A “stablecoin” is designed to ease volatility in the value of cryptocurrency. Its value can be pegged to the value of items such as paper money and commodities.

Avit is designed for use by institutional traders and corporate treasurers when they prefer a real-time payment settlement solution in dollars that doesn’t suffer from the delayed settlement and chargeback issues of traditional payment solutions or the legal, accounting and tax issues of “stablecoins.”

“I’m thrilled that the OCC yesterday followed Wyoming in allowing banks to provide custody for digital assets,” Long continued. “Wyoming has been developing its digital asset custody initiative for two years and already has a comprehensive framework and supervisory process in place, which does not exist elsewhere. The OCC and 49 other states do not yet have in place the comprehensive legal structure necessary for enabling digital asset custody without significant legal risk. They also do not have a roadmap for courts to adjudicate disputes involving digital assets and do not provide the certainty in bankruptcy that Wyoming provides for digital asset custodians. Its prudential standards make Wyoming the only jurisdiction in the U.S. where digital asset custody in a bank can truly be executed in a safe and sound manner.”

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Enzi Warns Congress Of Out Of Control Overspending

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi called on Congress to be mindful of the nation’s debt and deficit as legislators tackle a new bill to address the coronavirus pandemic.

As Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, the senator has had a close eye on the debt as the numbers have ticked upward in the last few months.

During his speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, Enzi noted this fiscal year, the country has already run up a deficit of $2.7 trillion, more than triple the size of the deficit the country ran at the same time last year.

“I recognize the unprecedented crisis presented by COVID-19 and I supported the necessary response,” Enzi said in his speech. “When this crisis abates, and it will, the federal government cannot afford to return to the status quo of unsustainable budgets and surging debt that jeopardizes the prosperity of future generations. We have to start a serious conversation about how we are going to pay our bills and put our finances on a more sustainable path. We can justify aggressive borrowing and spending as necessary during times of crisis, but that cannot be our default.”

The Congressional Budget Office projects the country is on track to spend $3.7 trillion more than we take in this year, without any new coronavirus legislation. By the end of the fiscal year, the country’s publicly held debt will exceed the size of the economy and by the end of 2021, debt as a percentage of the economy will be higher than it’s ever been in United States history.

“We are spending billions of dollars without so much as a discussion of how to pay for things while we keep digging the hole deeper for future generations,” Enzi said. “More legislation may be needed to combat the virus and help the economy, but we cannot use the crisis to justify opening the spending floodgates and borrowing from future generations to fund non-emergency priorities. We all owe it to them to do better, and I hope we start to do so soon.”

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Gordon: Spending Cuts Of $250 Million Just The Beginning For Wyoming

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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.”

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More Than $80 Million Distributed From State COVID Aid Program

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

More than 900 Wyoming businesses received more than $25 million in one day from the state’s Business Interruption Stipend program, according to state figures.

Figures on the Wyoming transparency page showed that on Wednesday, 915 companies received $25.3 million, bringing the total distributed under the program since it launched in June to almost $80.5 million.

The total number of Wyoming businesses to receive assistance under the program so far is 3,191, with applications still under review from about another 1,000 businesses. The deadline for submitting applications was July 2.

The Business Interruption Stipend program was one of three approved by the Legislature this year to help Wyoming businesses hurt by the coronavirus pandemic and resulting business slowdown. Funding for the programs comes from $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus assistance funds sent to the state.

The Business Interruption Stipend program is designed specifically for businesses employing 50 or fewer people.

The maximum grant available under the program is $50,000 and as of Wednesday, 831 businesses had received the maximum, many of them restaurants, bars and hotels.

The state’s other two relief programs are scheduled to start later this month.

One program, the Coronavirus Business Relief Stipend, will provide up to $300,000 for companies that employ fewer than 100 people that were forced to shut down or curtail operations because of state health orders issued to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The other, The Coronavirus Mitigation Fund, is designed to compensate businesses for expenses they faced directly related to the coronavirus, such as the purchase of cleaning products, personal protective equipment and the cost of hiring new employees to comply with public health orders.

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Gordon Says State Will Cut Staff

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon and his state agency heads will begin their work this week to cut the state’s biennium budget to deal with projected revenue shortfalls of $1.5 billion, he said Wednesday.

And the governor warned residents during a news conference that they will have to expect both program and personnel reductions.

“Some of the things that are on the (list for cuts) will be funding for things like mental health, sex offender programs, children, elder care … travel out-of-state for some of our agencies,” he said. “These are some of the many very difficult choices we will have to make and there will be reductions in force. None of that is good.”

Wyoming’s Legislature approved a budget for the 2021-22 biennium, which began on July 1, during a budget session that ended in March.

Shortly after, a collapse in mineral prices led state officials to predict that tax revenues for the biennium would fall $1.5 billion short of earlier projections, requiring budget cuts.

Gordon asked all of his agency heads to submit ideas for reducing their budgets by 20% and said Wednesday he has asked the officials to propose additional cuts of 10%.

“The cuts we’ve talked about here are getting close to the bone,” he said. “In some cases we really are talking about the bone. We will talk about some very precious programs and some very valuable people. I don’t look forward to any of this.”

The state’s agencies will work to improve the efficiency with which they provide services, Gordon said, to avoid reducing those services more than necessary.

In the upcoming election, Gordon said, candidates for the Legislature need to understand the challenges the state faces so they can be prepared to act accordingly during the Legislature’s general session in 2021.

“This election is essential to make sure we have quality candidates who understand the challenges and choices we have to make … in a way we can emerge from this, as I know we can, successfully and stronger,” he said. “Our session coming up in January will be one of the most important sessions that this state has ever seen.”

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Wyoming Economy: Shortest But Most Severe Recession in History

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Early in what some economists called the most severe economic recession in history, Wyoming’s economy posted mixed results.

A report from the Economic Analysis Division of the state Department of Administration and Information said that while Wyoming personal income and home prices were up in the first quarter of 2020 over 2019 figures, employment declined, along with taxable sales, tourism and interest revenue.

The quarterly report on economic conditions nationally and in Wyoming said economists believe that the country’s recession sparked by the coronavirus pandemic may be over with the reopening of businesses across the nation.

“The quick reopening of businesses across the country catalyzed the turnaround and the three-month downturn — March through May — will be the shortest in recession-dating history, but it will be among the most severe,” the report said. “Real (gross domestic product) is expected to decline by more than 12% peak to trough between the fourth quarter of 2019 and the second quarter of 2020, approximately three times the loss experienced during the Great Recession.”

The report on conditions in Wyoming during the first quarter of the year — January through March — said unemployment had already started to rise before the illness led to restrictions on businesses in March.

In the first quarter, employment declined slightly from the first quarter of 2019, by 1,090 jobs, 0.4%, while the unemployment rate moved to 3.8%, slightly higher than the national average.

“Job declines occurred in about half of industrial sectors where … mining (including oil and gas extraction) lost the largest number of jobs, mainly to do the reduced drilling activities because of declining oil and natural gas prices,” the report said.

Also posting a decline in the first quarter was taxable sales, which fell by 5.7% from 2019 to total $4.2 billion.

The report once again pointed to falling numbers in the mining sector as largely responsible for the overall decline, with sales of related equipment and supplies dropping by 27.2% from 2019.

Most of the state’s counties, 13, saw an increase in taxable sales, with Niobrara County more than doubling its sales compared to the first quarter of 2019 — 162.7%.

However, Sublette, Johnson and Sweetwater county sales declined by more than 30% from the previous year, “mostly reflecting a slowdown in conventional natural gas exploration.”

In tourism, the report said the number of visits to Yellowstone National Park in the first quarter dropped by 5.2% from 2019 and visits to Grand Teton National Park declined by 4.9%.

“The complete closure of these two national parks in late March may be a factor for the visitation change,” the report said.

Statewide lodging sales also declined by 9.9% from the first quarter of 2019, it said.

Agriculture prices fell slightly in the first quarter of 2020 from 2019, the report said.

Investment income to the state from its Permanent Mineral Trust Fund totaled $55.3 million in the first quarter of 2020, a 26.4% drop from the first quarter of 2019.

However, there were several bright spots in the first quarter, the report said.

Personal income grew by 2.8% in the first quarter over 2019 figures. However, the increase was slightly below the national average increase of 3.3%.

In addition, the price of a single-family home increased by 9.9% over the year, the fastest pace since the third quarter of 2007.

In addition, mortgage delinquency and foreclosure rates were lower than the rates seen in 2019.

However, the number of permits issued to build new homes fell by 3.5% from last year.

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Almost 2,300 Businesses Get $73 Million In State Assistance

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Financial advisor Bryan Pedersen.

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Almost 2,300 Wyoming businesses have collected more than $73 million in aid funds under a program designed to help companies recover from the coronavirus pandemic, according to state figures.

Figures posted on the Wyoming Transparency Platform show that as of Thursday, just over $73 million had been sent to 2,277 companies under the Business Interruption Stipend program.

And more assistance is on the way.

While the program originally set aside $50 million to provide grants of up to $50,000 for businesses, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Monday he would make another $50 million available for the program.

“This global pandemic continues to have significant impacts on the economy and on the lives of people in Wyoming,” Gordon said in a news release. “These grants keep people employed and help small business owners stay resilient while respecting the health orders that protect lives.”

The Wyoming Business Council, which manages the program, said in a news release Friday that by the application deadline of midnight Thursday, 4,211 applications for a total of $104.6 million had been received.

The WBC said it would continue to process applications for the program as quickly as possible.

The Business Interruption Stipend program was one of three approved by the Legislature to help Wyoming businesses affected by the pandemic. Funding for the programs comes from $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus assistance funds sent to the state.

The Business Interruption Stipend program is designed specifically for businesses employing 50 or fewer people.

Grants range from $1,000 to $50,000 and as of Thursday, 547 businesses had received the maximum grant.

Many of the companies receiving the maximum grant are involved in the hospitality industry — such as hotels and restaurants — and the entertainment business. However, requests came from other industries, such as building contractors and communications-marketing companies.

The busiest day of the program so far has been June 25, when 440 businesses received $11 million.

The state’s other two relief programs are scheduled to start later this month.

One program, the Coronavirus Business Relief Stipend, will provide up to $300,000 for companies that employ fewer than 100 people that were forced to shut down or curtail operations because of state health orders issued to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The other, The Coronavirus Mitigation Fund, is designed to compensate businesses for expenses they faced directly related to the coronavirus, such as the purchase of cleaning products, personal protective equipment and the cost of hiring new employees to comply with public health orders.

Wyoming Cities Have Different Responses To Severe Tax Declines

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By Wendy Corr, Ellen Fike and Mari Heithoff — Cowboy State Daily

Like Wyoming’s counties and the state itself, Wyoming’s cities are having to reduce their spending in the face of declining tax revenues.

Officials in different communities are taking different steps to make their budgets balance, from spending cuts to hiring freezes.

The mayors of Lander, Cody and Cheyenne told the Cowboy State Daily that their coffers had already been squeezed by tax income declines even before the coronavirus pandemic that resulted in business closures.


Lander had already been forced to make budget cuts of $650,000 and may have to reduce spending by another $300,000 by the end of the year, said Mayor Monte Richardson and Treasurer Charri Lara.

The city has seen a significant drop in revenues with the collapse of coal and oil prices, the two said, along with the reduced sales tax revenue.

“The projected sales tax decline was around 20%,” Lara said. “We’ve dropped below that and we’re not sure how far it will go.”

The cuts will ultimately have an impact on Lander’s citizens in the form of reduced services, Richardson said.

“We’ve cut the police department, the Parks and Rec Department, the cemetery,” he said. “We’ve cut most of our part-time summer help. The differences we’ll see are like a pyramid. If the city has to make budget cuts, we just won’t be able to provide the same services we have before.” 

Complicating the issue is a possible reduction in the amount of money the Legislature makes available to Wyoming’s cities. With the state facing a $1.5 billion deficit, some believe the those payments to the cities may be reduced or eliminated.

“The Legislature dictates supplemental sums to the city, and we don’t know yet how big those cuts will be, but Wyoming has to cut $1.5 billion over the next two years,” he said. “That’s 750 million a year, which is a huge amount to cut.” 


Cody started economizing some time ago, said Mayor Matt Hall, by not filling jobs that came open through retirement and by consolidating positions to give more responsibilities to fewer employees.

“We have asked, and we continue to ask, employees to wear a couple of different hats now, to troubleshoot things that they wouldn’t normally have to do had we been able to hire another person,” he said. “So we’ve lowered the amount of people working for the city, but when you have less people, things start slipping through the cracks.”

He said the personnel reductions would make themselves felt in areas such as maintenance to city parks and possible skipped days on garbage pickup. 

“New technology and IT stuff we’ve had to put off,” he said. “We’re putting off maintenance things, that, if we keep putting them off, we’ll end up re-doing, which costs an order of magnitude higher than just by doing some basic maintenance.”

Cody has already tapped its reserves for emergencies for about the last 10 years, Hall said.

“Essentially we’re using reserves to balance the budget,” he said. “The auditors recommend that we have a certain amount in reserves, to cover big expenses for emergencies, but for the most part, we are slowly whittling away the reserves that we’ve set aside for emergencies.


Heading into the new fiscal year knowing tax income would decline significantly, Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr asked her department heads to prepare a budget 20% below current levels.

The end result was a budget with percentage cuts ranging from the single digits in Public Safety to a cut of 19% in Orr’s office, she said.

“I’m feeling pretty optimistic,” she said. “We made cuts early in the budgeting process, so I don’t think we’ll have to do cuts, layoffs or furloughs in the future.”

Officials had initially believed sales tax income would decline by 25% in the coming year, but Orr said new information indicates the decline might be closer to 11%.

She added there has also been some good economic news for the city with increases in large consumer purchases such as cars and recreational vehicles.

However, Orr expressed concern about a reduction in the amount of money given the state’s cities by the Legislature, which she said has amounted to about $4 million on past years.

If the state does not provide those payments, the city may have to ask voters to approve a sales tax increase, she added.

“Because I don’t know where we’d find $4 million extra in our budget,” she said.

The city’s latest budget did take the cancellation of Cheyenne Frontier Days into account, Orr said.

“But it will be interesting to see overall how the spending patterns come,” she said. “Maybe we’ll see tourism in a different way in the city and county.”

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Wyoming’s Economic Health in April Worst in 15 Years

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s economic health in April was at its lowest level seen in 15 years, according to a state agency.

The state’s Economic Analysis Division, in its June report on the state’s economic indicators, reported that the state’s economic health in April was given a score of 95.2, the lowest score recorded since the measurement was first taken in January 2005.

A score of 100 indicates the state’s economic health is equal to conditions seen in January 2005. A higher score indicates improvement and a lower score indicates worsening conditions.

The EAD, a division of the state Department of Administration and Information, said the four economic indicators used to determine the state’s economic health all declined significantly in April from March, when the economic health index was set at 104.3. Unemployment was the biggest contributor to the decline, the report said.

“This large drop in the index from March 2020 was primarily due to a sharp increase in unemployment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report said.

The economic health index in April of 2019 was set at 105.9.

The index is determined by reviewing the state’s monthly unemployment rate, monthly total non-farm employment, sales and use tax collections from the mining sector and sales and use taxes from lodging.

Wyoming’s unemployment rate increased significantly in April from March, growing to 9.6% from 3.8%.

Non-farm employment dropped by 24,000 in April to total 262,400, sales and use tax collections from the mining industry fell by $2.7 million to total $6.4 million and lodging tax income totaled $640,000, a decline of 50% from numbers posted in April of 2019, the report said.

“This 50% year-over-year decline ties the largest decline for any month over the past 15 years,” the report said. 

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Wyoming Unemployment Dips Slightly In Show Of Modest Economic Improvement

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Wyoming’s unemployment rate fell slightly in May from April, indicating a modest improvement in the state’s economy, according to the state Department of Workforce Services.

The agency’s Research and Planning Section said Wyoming had a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 8.8% in May, compared to a rate of 9.6% in April.

“It appears that the state’s economy improved modestly in May as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were loosened and some businesses reopened,” the DWS said in a news release.

The state’s unemployment rate was far below the national average of 13.3% and was among the lowest in the nation. Nebraska, at 5.2%, and Utah, at 8.5%, had lower rates.

However, the unemployment rate was the highest seen since March of 1987, when the rate reached 8.9%

The numbers mean that more than 25,900 people were without work in the state in May, an increase of more than 15,500 from May of 2019.

The DWS said unemployment rates fell in most counties in April, with the largest drop occurring in Teton County, where the rate fell from 18.2% to 14%, Sublette, from 22.4% to 9.8%, and Johnson County, from 9.7% to 8.1%.

The rate went up slightly in Converse County, from 6.4% to 7.3%, and Carbon County, from 6.8% to 7%.

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WYDOT To Close 10 Rest Areas To Cut Costs

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Department of Transportation will close 10 rest areas throughout the state later this month to reduce the agency’s operational costs.

In a news release issued Friday morning, Gov. Mark Gordon announced the closures will be effective June 15 and are prompted by a need for WYDOT to reduce costs due to budgetary shortfalls.

The closures were approved by the Wyoming Transportation Commission during its recent special meeting.

“This is a painful reality but a necessary step given our state’s fiscal situation,” Gordon said in a news release. “This will have real impacts, not only for travelers, but for the custodial staff contracted to provide services to these facilities. These workers are our friends and neighbors in Wyoming communities around the state.”

The rest areas that will close include those near Lusk on U.S. Highway 18; Guernsey on U.S. 26; Greybull on U.S. 14-16-20; Moorcroft on Interstate 90; Star Valley on U.S. 89; Fort Steele on Interstate 80; Sundance on Interstate 90; Upton on U.S. 16, and Orin Junction and Chugwater, both located on Interstate 25.

“We took a hard look at all of our rest areas and came up with a list of those that we feel we can close with a minimal amount of impact to our travelers,” WYDOT Director K. Luke Reiner said in the same release. “It was a hard decision but one that we came to based on the needs of the public and to ensure we maintain a balanced budget.”

WYDOT officials sent letters to local community leaders and the contractors who work at the rest areas notifying them of the closures.

The rest area closures will result in a savings to WYDOT of approximately $197,453 from June 15 through Sept. 30. After that, the department will save about $789,812 per year.

“Although these rest areas will close, motorists will still have access to facilities in neighboring communities,” Reiner said. “Each of the rest areas that are closing are within a reasonable distance of a town that has facilities for the public.”

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Gov. Gordon To State Agencies: “Prepare For Cuts By 20%”

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon has asked his agency heads to prepare plans to cut their spending by 20% to deal with dramatic reductions in revenue for the state, he announced Thursday.

Gordon, during his weekly news briefing, said significant declines in mineral tax income, the state’s chief source of income, and revenue losses related to the coronavirus have left the state with the largest loss of income it has ever seen.

State agencies have been directed to do everything they can to cut spending immediately and to develop plans by July 1 to cut spending even more, including by eliminating of programs and jobs, Gordon said.

A report from the state’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Group recently said that the state’s income will fall by $1.5 billion during the coming 2021-22 biennium from estimates used to craft the budget for the biennium.

As a result, even though Wyoming has been spared from many of the negative impacts other states are seeing from coronavirus, it will still have to make adjustments, Gordon said.

“We’ve still seen those reductions and like any business anywhere, Wyoming has go to make the reductions and cuts it needs in programs in the people who run those programs,” he said.

Gordon said he would keep Wyoming residents apprised of proposed program cuts and the impacts those cuts will have around the state.

“It’s important that I speak directly, frankly and without trying to sugar-coat anything about the crisis that we face,” he said. “I promise that not only will we do the cuts that are necessary, but we will tell you what that is going to mean to your community, to the people in your community. Things like whether we can plow your roads all night.”

Any decision made will be made with an eye toward keeping Wyoming functioning and progressing in the future, he added.

“It is not lop off an arm or leg and say we’re good,” he said. “It’s about planning for our future.”

There is no way the state can cut spending enough to make up for the revenue losses, Gordon said, which means the Legislature may have to look at using reserve funds or increasing taxes.

Gordon said he would like to see a thorough review of all tax exemptions.

“One of the things we should start with is all the tax exemptions,” he said. “Maybe they should be eliminated. There are other options out there on the table, but I think we start with where we’ve given up sales tax income.”

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Gordon Tells State Agency Heads To Prepare For Drastic Cuts

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is asking state agency heads to do whatever they can to reduce spending and to prepare for more spending cuts in coming months in response to what he said was the largest loss of income in state history.

Gordon, in a news release Thursday, said he is directing agencies to immediately take any action they can to reduce spending and then to prepare for future cuts by identifying programs that can be eliminated. He said such steps will undoubtedly lead to job losses and added he is also asking agencies to consider salary reductions, furloughs and reductions in benefits.

The state’s revenues have been significantly reduced because of declining mineral revenues and income losses associated with the coronavirus.

A state report recently predicted that during the upcoming 2021-22 biennium, state revenues will fall $1.5 billion short of estimates used to craft the state’s budget.

“We are in uncharted territory,” Gordon said in his news release. “We have just experienced the largest loss of income in our history just four years after our second largest loss of income.”

Gordon was expected to address his news release in more detail during a news conference Thursday.

Gordon said it would be impossible to make up for the revenue loss entirely through reductions in state programs and employment.

“But even if every state employee was let go, or if we closed the prisons, eliminated all money going to the courts and stopped funding persons with disabilities, we would still run out of funds at the end of the biennium,” he said.

Gordon said after proposing programs that could be cut, agency heads will be asked to build flexible approaches that could be adjusted to updated revenue forecasts as they are provided later in the year.

“To be sure, the data that we used to model these revenue shortfalls are preliminary, and therefore still a bit unclear, but there can be no doubt we will see a continuing steep decline,” the Governor said. “In any event, our approach to the significant cuts we will have to make must be done strategically, with purpose, and in a manner that assures Wyoming can recover rapidly.”

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Cheyenne Refinery To Shift To Renewable Diesel, Cut 200 Workers

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

HollyFrontier’s Cheyenne Refinery will shift from refining petroleum to producing a diesel fuel made out of soybean oil, the company announced Monday.

HollyFrontier announced in a news release that the conversion from petroleum refining will take 12 to 18 months and by the time the work is completed, about 200 workers will have been released.

The reduction in the refinery’s workforce will occur over a period of time, said Liberty Swift, manager of corporate communications for the company.

“Everyone’s learning today what the plan is so no one would be taken by surprise,” she said. “We’re working with everybody to try to assist them through this process.”

The refinery on the south side of Cheyenne has been processing petroleum for 86 years, according to Mike Jennings, HollyFrontier’s president and chief executive officer.

But Jennings said given the crash in oil prices caused by both oil price wars and the coronavirus, the company did not believe petroleum refining was a sustainable business.

In addition, the company was looking at high operating and maintenance costs related to the refinery over the next three to five years, he said.

Swift said there is a growing demand for diesel fuel made from renewable resources, particularly in California, but also in Colorado.

The Cheyenne refinery was well-suited for the conversion because some of the equipment already in place can be used to produce the renewable diesel, she added.

Any equipment not used in the production of renewable diesel will be idled, Swift said.

The conversion process is expected to cost about $125 million to $175 million, the company said.

When the work is finished, about 80 employees will remain at the refinery.

The company will work where possible to put employees removed from the refinery to work at other HollyFrontier plants, Swift said.

She added the company wants to continue working with Cheyenne as it has in the past.

“We want to continue to be in the Cheyenne community and want to continue to be a strong community partner,” she said. “This is a way we can stay in the community.”

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Construction, Infrastructure Projects Could Boost Wyoming’s Faltering Economy

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Facing the potential economic crisis of the century, Wyoming legislators could spend some federal relief funding on economic development projects to boost post-pandemic employment.  

During the Legislature’s special session on May 15 and 16, legislators laid out four priorities for spending $1.25 billion in federal aid provided by the CARES Act before its “use it or lose it” deadline on Dec. 30, Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said.

While the legislators’ first two priorities — COVID-19 emergency response and relief aid — deal specifically with the pandemic’s impacts on Wyoming businesses, residents and governments, the third priority — economic development projects — was created as a catchall that could help the economy get back on its feet, Case explained.

The fourth priority — replacement of lost revenue for public entities — might not capitalize on CARES Act funding, which cannot be used as revenue for the state’s general fund. But by setting the task as a priority, the Legislature has laid the groundwork for using CARES funding “to the extent allowable” and future stimulus funds for the stated purpose.

Economic development might seem like an odd choice for spending the federal money, but University of Wyoming Economist Rob Godby said the category is a historical staple for rebooting struggling economies.

“Construction is a tried and true way of recovering an economy that’s been impacted by a deep recession,” Godby explained. “It’s a well recognized initiative all the way back the Great Depression and the New Deal.”

New businesses could open to accommodate the influx of temporary workers drawn to new construction projects, providing jobs across several sectors in a community.

While the construction jobs are typically temporary, they can be a Band-Aid for the growing unemployment rate while giving recovering businesses enough time to rebuild the demand for a permanent labor force.

“Putting people to work on construction or expanding infrastructure is good for the present, because it creates jobs,” Godby said. “And it’s good for the future, because once that infrastructure is in place, it creates additional benefits and increased productivity.”

Broadband infrastructure stood out as one of the legislators’ suggested economic development projects, and Case said good broadband is needed now more than ever.

“If anything has become common in the last few months, it’s the use of things like Zoom for meetings and telemedicine to bridge the social distancing gap,” he explained. “A lot of people are thinking broadband is going to get a lot of these funds.”

In 2018, former Gov. Matt Mead’s ENDOW initiative identified broadband infrastructure as a key component to improving Wyoming’s economy. In 2019, the Wyoming Broadband Advisory Council determined the state’s focus should be on broadband infrastructure expansion, rather than improving the infrastructure already in place.

In addition to creating jobs, Case said economic development projects could help the state spend the federal aid before the deadline.

“The legislator left a lot money on the table for the governor in case they don’t come back and give him more direction,” he said.

During the special session, legislators did not set a spending limit for economic development in Senate Enrolled Act No. 001, which designates the emergency funding priorities. However, the bill does leave room for Legislature to give Gov. Mark Gordon future guidance about how the money should be spent.

Given economic development’s low ranking on the priority list, Case said new projects are only an option at this point.  

“It’s possible that by the time we get through all the applications for the different types of relief,” Case said, “there’s no money left on the table for economic development projects.”

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Wyoming Revenue Decline To Hit Between $1.5 Billion to $1.8 Billion

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Income to pay for the state’s next budget, including education, will probably fall almost $1.5 billion short of projections used to create that budget, but could dip as far as $1.8 billion below earlier estimates, according to a state report released Tuesday.

The Consensus Revenue Estimating Group, in a special report, said between the economic slump created by the coronavirus pandemic and an oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, Wyoming’s revenues will be reduced significantly and will not bounce back quickly.

“Under all scenarios, state revenues … are materially lower,” said the report. “A forecast … eventually illustrates a modest rebound; however, none of the funds/accounts recover to pre-COVID-19 levels … by the end of the forecast period.”

The CREG is made up of economists from different state agencies who look at the impact of statewide, national and global developments on sources of revenue for the state.

The CREG’s reports provide the basis for legislators as they work to set up the state’s budgets, which run in two-year cycles. The next budget for the state begins on July 1 and ends on June 30 of 2022. It was approved by the Legislature in March using a projection issued by the CREG in January.

The report said money for the state’s general fund — its main bank account — and budget reserve account would probably drop by almost $1.1 billion during the biennium from January projections. The report said the decline could range from $783.6 million to almost $1.4 billion, depending on conditions.

Meanwhile, income for the state’s School Foundation Program and School Capital Construction Account, will fall by from $291 million to $472 million below estimates, the report said. CREG said the decline will most likely be around $394 million.

The report said the CREG was forced to make broader estimates than it usually does because of the uncertainties its members faced in making projections.

“Traditional models and methods employed by CREG in prior reports are unlikely to carry the previous levels of accuracy due to the unprecedented nature of current events,” the report said. “Perhaps this forecast is best described as a reasoned assessment.”

The report predicted a drop of more than $536 million in mineral severance taxes from January estimates, a decline of more than 44%.Sales and use tax revenues, meanwhile, were expected to fall by more than $310 million from earlier projections during the biennium, a decline of more than 27%.

The report was delivered Tuesday to members of the Legislature’s Revenue Committee.

Committee member Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, said in a Facebook posting the decline will force the Legislature to make difficult choices.

“Tough decisions ahead for the state,” he wrote.

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Covid-19 Poll: Wyomingites Very Concerned About Economy, Fewer Concerned About Spread Of Virus

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Almost all of those questioned in a University of Wyoming survey are concerned about the impact of coronavirus on the national economy and a majority are concerned about its impact on their personal finances.

The UW Survey and Analysis Center’s latest coronavirus-related survey showed that 72.9% of those questioned are very concerned about the impact of the pandemic on the nation’s economy and 24.1% are somewhat concerned.

At the same time, 70.5% of the 473 Wyoming residents contacted in the random telephone survey on May 11 said they were either very concerned or somewhat concerned about the outbreak’s impact on their personal finances. Almost 22% said they were not too concerned.

The survey, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5%, is the fourth conducted since the end of March aimed specifically at collecting information on people’s attitudes toward the coronavirus.

The survey also found that the number of people worried about the spread of COVID-19 has dropped since March.

The number of people who said they were very, fairly or somewhat anxious about the spread dropped from 82.9% to 67.9%.

At the same time, the percentage of people who said they were “not at all” concerned about the spread of illness increased to 32.1% in May compared to 17.2% in March.

Also dropping was the number of people concerned that they or someone in their family might get coronavirus.

In March, more than 70% of those questioned were very or somewhat worried about the prospect, a number that dropped to 58.1% in May. Meanwhile, the number of people who said they are not worried at all increased from 6.4% in March to 12.9% on May 11.

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Wyo Local Officials Ask Congress to Fully Fund Land & Water Conservation Fund

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

On Wednesday, four Wyoming elected officials joined more than 100 of their counterparts across the West in sending a letter to Congress to urge full funding for public lands in an upcoming stimulus package.

Jackson Mayor Pete Muldoon and City Councilman Jim Standford, Albany County Commissioner Pete Gosar and Cheyenne City Councilman Pete Layborn signed the letter.

The letter asks for full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund in upcoming legislation designed to provide an economic stimulus to restart the economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The letter explains that outdoor recreation is a critical driver of local economies in the West and says investing in the fund will help with long-term recovery for gateway communities and states that rely on visitors to public lands.

The letter was drafted by the Mountain Pact, an organization of mountain communities in the West.

 “Our national, state and local parks, trails and public lands are a critical economic driver for communities big and small, urban and rural, across the nation. Across the west, the travel and tourism industries have been taking a hit in the current crisis. Investing now in full funding for LWCF will help with a strong long-term recovery for gateway communities and states that rely on visitors to public lands,” Telluride, Colorado mayor DeLanie Young said in a news release.

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Wyoming Frontier Prison Creates “Rent a Cell” Fundraiser

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Friday the 13th is always special at the Wyoming Frontier Prison in Rawlins, but for site director Tina Hill, this year’s March 13 tour was one of her last really fun days.

“We had a big tour of about 40 people that night and then that following Monday, things started to shut down and gatherings were being limited due to COVID-19,” she said.

About a week later, the “Old Pen” had to close to the public. For Hill and the other two employees at the historic site, this was gut-wrenching for a few reasons. They love hosting the daily tours of the prison, walking guests through history and detailing some of the best stories from the cell blocks. There was no doubt they didn’t want to put a guest’s health in danger, but they also missed seeing new and familiar faces coming on the grounds every week.

But also, no people into the prison meant no funds. Hill and her staff were worried about what the pandemic could mean for the future of the Wyoming Frontier Prison.

But they came up with an idea: renting a cell. This way, people could have their names displayed in the prison without any of the pesky legal consequences.

Contributors to the Rent-a-Cell fundraiser pay $10, which gets them a “cell” for a week. Really, they’ll get a sign bearing their name put up on a cell in the prison for one week — a few more for an extra donation. A person can donate under their own name or use a pseudonym, as seen in Hill’s daily Facebook posts on the WFP page.

Some names are real, like Jason or Joshua, while some signs carry names such as “Senor McAwesomesauce.” But even if some of the names are questionable, the support for the historic site is all too real.

Hill and the WFP staff have been surprised by the response to the fundraiser over the last couple weeks, and are trying to find ways to show their appreciation for their donors.

“I do little video tours every night so people can see their names on the cells,” Hill explained. “We also will send them pictures of their sign so they can share it. It’s been a really great response.”

Legislator on Wyoming’s Economy: “Even Optimistic Outlook Has Terrible Impacts”

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s savings and federal relief funding combined might not be enough to save the state from economic damage left in the wake of COVID-19, state legislators said.

fiscal analysis sent to legislators on April 10 by the Legislative Service Office (LSO), the agency tasked with providing administrative services for the Legislature, predicted the novel coronavirus would take a heavy toll on state revenue.

“It is showing really huge impacts,” said Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander. “Even the optimistic outlook has terrible impacts.”

The analysis offered three scenarios — optimistic, intermediate and pessimistic — in which the state’s revenue could fall from current projections by $555.8 million to almost $2.8 billion by the end of fiscal 2022.

Case, an economist and Senate Revenue Committee chairman, said the decline is driven by the pandemic, but an “oil war” between Russia and Saudi Arabia also caused significant damage to revenue projections.

“When we had forecasts late last fall, the saving grace in those predictions was oil offsetting the loss of revenue,” Case said. “This new analysis is saying this could be worse than our worst year since 1980.”

In the case of the analysis’ pessimistic outlook, Wyoming’s rainy day fund, the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account, of $1.6 billion wouldn’t keep the state afloat for more than six months, Case said.

“At the very basic level, we don’t have enough revenues to run state government,” he added. “We don’t even have enough revenues to run state government even if we cut it by a lot, and I mean a lot.”

While the analysis admits the projections are “informed guesses,” Case and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, said they felt it was accurate.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in our LSO staff,” Bebout said. “I think the three scenarios (the LSO) laid out are fairly realistic.”

The optimistic viewpoint indicates Wyoming might only lose about $555.8 million in revenue if businesses reopen immediately and sales return to normal, but Bebout said the intermediate outlook — a loss of about $1.76 billion over the next three years — was far more likely

“I don’t think we’ll ever have business as usual quite like it was before this happened,” he explained. “I think we’ll see some long-term effects, but we’re going to figure it out.”
Part of the solution could be $1.25 billion in federal aid as a result of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which Bebout said Wyoming started receiving Friday.

But, the relief cannot be spent as a direct replacement of state revenue.
“There’s all sorts of strings tied to that money,” Bebout said. “We don’t know what they are for sure yet.”

A special session could be needed to determine how the money could be used and would be the first step of Bebout’s three-pronged approach to the pandemic’s economic impacts. 

His second step would be to look at the budget Wyoming Legislature approved a few weeks ago to determine if the state’s proposed spending is still feasible in a post-pandemic economy.

“Lastly, we need to try get business back to normal as best we can, continuing our conservative fiscal responsibility and try not to get in debt,” Bebout said. “We can’t cut our way into this issue, but we sure as heck can’t spend our way into it, either.”

Following a Wyoming Management Council meeting Thursday, Case said legislative special sessions could be on the horizon in the next couple months.

“(The council) approved the interim topics that still need to be addressed and were important to Wyoming even before COVID-19 hit,” he said. “And they also agreed to work on some preliminary bills for introduction in a special session, regarding COVID-19.”

Bebout said the council meeting reinforced the need to not only address the pandemic challenges, but also the issues at hand prior to COVID-19.

“We’re going to continue with our normal work load — that’s really important.,” he explained. 

“Second of all is a willingness by the Management Council to work with the governor to deal with these issues that are top of the list and do it together.”

Coronavirus Impact: Wyoming Revenues to Drop Between $550 Million – $2.8 Billion

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Revenues needed to run the state will decline dramatically in the next several years from projections made before the coronavirus was detected in Wyoming, according to an analysis by a state agency.

The analysis by the Legislative Service Office, the agency tasked with providing administrative services for the Legislature, found that the state’s revenue could fall from current projections by $555.8 million to almost $2.8 billion by the end of fiscal 2022.

The Legislature, during its recent budget session, based its budget for the fiscal 2021-22 biennium on projections made by the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group, a group of fiscal analysts from different state agencies who meet several times a year to provide their estimate on how much money the state will have to work with.

However, the last such projection was provided in January, before the coronavirus shut down much of the economy.

As a result, the LSO, in response to requests for information, prepared its own analysis showing three possible scenarios for the state’s revenues from April of this year through the end of the coming fiscal biennium in June of 2022.

“In light of the last month’s unprecedented economic developments, the January 2020 Consensus Revenue Estimating Group … forecast is no longer a reasonable projection of state revenues in the near-term,” the analysis said. “Wyoming’s economic outlook has changed significantly.”

The analysis provides three scenarios based on different assumptions: “optimistic,” projecting a shorter economic downturn and quicker recovery; “intermediate,” based on actual mineral futures prices, economic disruption through the summer and a modest recovery over the next year, and “pessimistic,” based on a drawn-out crisis with an extended recovery.

The LSO admitted the scenarios are “informed guesses.”

However, it also noted that in addition to the coronavirus, Wyoming has already been hit hard by an oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia that has left oil prices depressed.

Under the optimistic scenario, income through the end of fiscal 2022 will decline by $555.8 million from January projections. The intermediate scenario predicts a drop of $1.7 billion and the pessimistic predicts a decline of almost $2.8 billion.

The impact to the state’s main checking account, its “General Fund,” could range from $254.6 million to $1.4 billion, the analysis said.

Funding for the School Foundation Program Account and School Capital Construction Account might fall by $136 million to $526 million, the analysis said.

The state’s oil tax income will be the revenue source hardest hit compared to earlier projections, the analysis said, dropping by $494 million to just over $1 billion between now and the end of fiscal 2022.

Coal tax income will also decline by $203 million to $437 million, the analysis said.

Sales and use taxes will drop by $147 million to $869 million.

The analysis should be seen only as a starting point for discussions as officials try to determine how to react to the coronavirus pandemic, said Don Richards, the LSO’s budget and fiscal administrator.

“It really is just a platform for discussion,” he said.

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Cheyenne Frontier Days CEO: No Plans for Cancellation Yet

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

There will likely be no decision on canceling Cheyenne Frontier Days until at least late May or early June, CEO Tom Hirsig said Monday.

Hirsig, in a telephone interview with Cowboy State Daily, said rodeo officials are keeping track of conditions, but are still planning to proceed with the 10-day event.

“We’re still moving forward with all aspects of the show,” Hirsig said. “We’re like everyone else, sitting here waiting for clarification on the future. There’s just not enough information on how long this will last.”

“If the biggest outdoor rodeo in the world were to be canceled, it would be only in conjunction with city, county and state orders,” Hirsig said. “It’s going to take a lot to bring the ‘Daddy of ’em All’ down.”

In a fireside chat hosted by Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr on Friday evening, she noted that the coronavirus pandemic has already impacted the rodeo, which is scheduled for July 17 through 26.

Orr said she hoped the event wouldn’t be canceled.

“It would be really difficult for our community,” she said. “Economically, yeah, but it’s our spirit that it would hurt. Cheyenne Frontier Days has continued on through wars and depressions. For (the virus) to be the reason we didn’t have it in 125 years would hurt our soul.”

Hirsig joked that he was one of the people waiting to see what would happen with the summer event, but clarified that no ticket sales have been suspended and there are no plans to do so.

The Frontier Days ticketing offices are closed to the public, but people can still purchase rodeo or night show passes over the phone or online, he said.

Hirsig added that ticket sales haven’t been affected much by the pandemic and very few people have called to inquire about rescheduling, much to his surprise and relief.

CFD officials are meeting weekly to discuss event plans, Hirsig said. The virus has impacted the volunteer meetings, but Hirsig said he has faith in the dedicated crew that keeps Frontier Days running every year.

Over the last few years, the CFD officials’ biggest concerns have been related to violence and trying to beef up security. This year, they may have to reorganize their priorities, Hirsig said.

“I’m not sure how things will look in a post-virus world,” Hirsig said. “At an event like ours, you’d probably have to have twice as many hand sanitizers as there are now. We’d maybe have to disinfect the bleachers and the grandstands once or twice a day. I don’t know how things will look.”

Ultimately, Hirsig said he and other CFD officials will continue to follow the rodeo’s mission of providing a positive economic impact on the community, which he said runs from Cheyenne through the state and even into the Front Range.

“We have an economic impact of $26 million in our community alone and $40 million for the state,” Hirsig said. “We want to do everything in our power to safely fulfill that mission. We’re dedicated to doing that until it’s decided that it’s not safe to do so.”

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Wyoming Unemployment Remains Steady At 3.7 Percent

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Wyoming’s unemployment rate remained steady in January at 3.7 percent, the same rate seen in December, according to the state Department of Workforce Services.

The department’s Research and Planning Section, in its regular report on unemployment, reported that the rate was slightly higher than the January 2019 rate of 3.5 percent, but almost equal to the national average of 3.6 percent.

The state’s highest January unemployment rate of 5.9 percent was found in Sublette County, followed by Fremont County at 5.6 percent and Big Horn and Sweetwater counties at 5.4 percent. Teton County’s unemployment rate fell from 2.9 percent to 2.7 percent.

The biggest increases in unemployment from December to January were seen in Big Horn County, which grew from 3.7 percent to 5.4 percent, Washakie County, from 3.6 percent to 4.6 percent, and Sheridan County, which grew from 3.4 percent to 4.3 percent.

“Colder weather and the end of the holiday shopping season often bring seasonal job losses in January in many sectors, including construction, retail trade, government and professional and business services,” the report said.

In December, Wyoming’s unemployment rate was higher than in most of the surrounding states, said David Bullard, the section’s senior economist. He added Wyoming has had a higher unemployment rate than surrounding states since about 2018.

“Some neighboring states have been growing more quickly than we have,” he said.

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