CHEYENNE – Gov. Mark Gordon released his state budget proposal for the 2021-22 biennium Monday morning, and while it recommends no program cuts, the governor said it aims to prepare the state for its uncertain future.
"Over the course of the last year, even though we've had a tremendous amount of tribulation and challenge with coal companies and mineral and gas, what I am happy to say is that those effects, for the time being, have been muted," Gordon said.
With the state is facing an estimated $250 million shortfall in K-12 education funding in the near future, the proposed budget calls for borrowing $161 million from the state's rainy-day fund to address needs in the meantime. It also recommends using $105 million from the fund for local government spending.
"(The rainy-day fund) is meant to be used as a buffer," Gordon said. "We do use it, to some degree, for education funding this time around, because we need to. Structurally, there is a large challenge coming in education."
The budget does not add many ongoing costs, Gordon said. His proposal comes a few weeks after the latest Consensus Revenue Estimating Group report projected a $185.4 million drop in revenue for Wyoming over the next three years, something Gordon said will have to be reckoned with in coming years.
"Additional spending cuts, I do believe, will be on the horizon," Gordon said.
One of the largest funding cuts within the 2021-22 budget is for capital construction projects. Though roughly $150 million in projects was requested by the agency overseeing such projects, Gordon recommended $94.7 million for capital construction in the upcoming biennium.
"My concern has been that as we've been building out these new facilities, we haven't necessarily managed to have them maintained," Gordon said.
While capital construction projects saw a reduction in the governor's budget, $238 million was recommended for school construction projects, an amount Gordon said was "more than adequate." Of that total, $10 million would go to school safety projects.
Within the budget, K-12 education also saw a $38 million boost in the form of an external cost adjustment, a measure that accounts for inflation. Trent Carroll, Wyoming Department of Education chief operating officer, said the cost adjustment will have a substantial impact on the state's education system.
"That was one of the first things we noticed," Carroll said of the cost adjustment. "That was something that the school districts were certainly advocating for."
The State Public Defenders Office, which will be spotlighted in Wyoming Supreme Court oral arguments this week, received a roughly $6 million boost in funding, compared to the last biennium. Gordon said the increase was necessary to support the rising demand for public defenders.
"I think that (increase) will help make up the shortfalls," Gordon said.
The budget also proposes sending $70 million back into the rainy-day fund, which the governor said would allow the state to better control its deficit going forward.
The governor did not include requests for additional funding from the Wyoming Department of Corrections or the Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Interim Committee, which requested an additional $24.5 million for long-term care and psychiatric residential treatment facilities.
"There are a few areas that I wish I could have funded, but unfortunately, there was too little to be able to move forward," Gordon said.
Although the governor's budget nearly meets the entire funding request from the Wyoming Department of Transportation, Gordon said the department is facing a $135 million shortfall in the future.
"I worry about that going forward, because as we see changing transportation needs and the changing types of vehicles that are used, particularly electric vehicles (that) don't pay gas taxes that help support our roads, I think this will become more and more of an issue as we go forward," Gordon said.
The proposed budget will now move to the state Legislature for consideration. The Joint Appropriations Committee will meet for several days next month to hash out the budget's details, beginning Dec. 9 in Cheyenne.
"This is the start of that budgeting process that the Legislature will work on, and I have no doubt that we will be working on it through the whole session," Gordon said.
Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, who co-chairs the Joint Appropriations Committee, said he has potential changes to the budget in mind, though he declined to divulge any possibilities.
“I would love to see some opportunity to look at programmatic cuts," Bebout said Monday. "It’s going to be hard for me to vote for any new programs.”
The Legislature's budget session begins Feb. 10 at the state Capitol.