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State Budget Director: Wyoming Long-Term Economic Picture “Scary”

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

While news that income for state government is running slightly ahead of projections is good, concerns still surround the long-term outlook for the state, according to a senior fiscal expert.

Kevin Hibbard, director of the state Budget Department, said a report issued last week showing that revenues for the state’s main bank accounts are running ahead of projections by about $73 million is good news for the short-term.

“The long term is a little bit scary,” he said.

A group of state fiscal experts known as the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group makes regular projections on how much revenue the state will receive to pay for its two-year budget. 

An update on the actual flow of income to the state issued Friday showed income for the state’s two main bank accounts, its “general fund” and “budget reserve account,” are running about $73 million ahead of the projections. All told, income for all the state’s major accounts is more than $100 million above estimates as of the end of March.

The higher revenue, along with cuts of more than $500 million made to the state’s current budget by Gov. Mark Gordon and the Legislature, should make it possible to finish the fiscal biennium in June 2022 without more cuts, Hibbard said.

“We can hold the budget that the Legislature has in place now,” he said.

However, he added that going forward, the state still has to deal with the impact of the halt of energy production on federal lands by the administration of President Joe Biden.

“We don’t know what the extent of that is going to be,” he said.

The moratorium will have more of an impact on Wyoming than other states such as North Dakota because those states have more leases on state land, he said.

He added drilling activity has declined significantly recently.

“In 2019 about this time, we had 25 rigs,” he said. “We’ve got seven now. We’re selling oil, but we’re not drilling as much.”

Hibbard also noted the Legislature put off any major maintenance work on state buildings to balance the current state budget. However, major maintenance expenses are projected to reach $129 million in the 2023-24 biennium, exceeding the revenue gains reported Friday.

“So if right now we are $100 million better off, we just put $129 million back in there,” he said.

Hibbard added the recent gains could be reversed given the fluctuating nature of Wyoming’s revenue.

“We are suggesting we collected more than anticipated, but that could change,” he said.

Hibbard is already working on the budget for the 2023-24 biennium, which begins July 1, 2022, and ends June 30, 2024.

The budget to be presented by Gordon in November and reviewed by the Legislature in early 2022 will depend heavily on the information provided by CREG in its October report.

“So we’ve got a couple more quarters to go through,” he said. “Hopefully revenue will continue to climb.”

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Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon Says 2021 Budget Will Be A Tough One

in Wyoming budget
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The proposed supplemental budget for state government to be reviewed by the Legislature when it convenes for its general session later this year will not be an easy one for the state, Gov. Mark Gordon said Tuesday.

Gordon, delivering a message to the Legislature during its one-day virtual session, noted he had already been forced to cut state spending before forwarding to legislators a difficult budget that proposed further spending cuts of $500 million.

“Make no mistake, this budget is a hard one,” he said in comments prepared for delivery to the Legislature. “I have already had to make deeper cuts than any other governor. We have tried to do our best to protect those who are vulnerable. But cuts of this magnitude are unavoidably painful.”

Gordon said his comments were not to be considered the “sate-of-the-state” address usually given on the first day of the Legislature’s session. He said he would deliver the “state-of-the-state” when the Legislature convenes later this year.

The supplemental budget is one of the main items to be addressed during the general session. A supplemental budget is one that is prepared halfway through the fiscal biennium to adjust spending, usually to provide extra funds for selected programs.

However, Gordon’s proposed supplemental budget would reduce the total spending for government operations for the fiscal 2021-22 biennium from $3.3 billion, the budget approved by the Legislature in 2020, to $2.4 billion.

Gordon compared the budget issues to Wyoming’s blizzard of 1949.

“We have to take action — smartly, fairly, and decisively,” he said.

Addressing the state’s financial situation will require more than simply recommending spending cuts, he added.

“Far more than a simple discussion between cuts or enhancements, Wyoming must look for ways to stabilize the booms and busts that come from a focused revenue source,” he said.

Gordon said he has asked the presidents of the state’s community colleges and the University of Wyoming to work together to develop ways to give workers the skills they need to succeed in an evolving economy.

“More than ever, our community colleges and our university must function together,” he said. “So that we can assure our existing as well as new industries and enterprises that there will be a world class, highly skilled, knowledgeable, nimble, entrepreneurial, and motivated workforce.”

Gordon said he would offer other ideas and strategies when the Legislature convenes for its session. Current plans call for virtual meetings by committees to review proposed legislation in mid- to late January, followed by an eight-day virtual session in late January and early February.

The body is to convene in person in early March, if health conditions allow, to begin its work on the budget and continue work on other issues.

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