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Agencies near new budget cut deadline; Mead to brief lawmakers

Jun 7, 2016 By Ben Neary, The Associated Press

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead plans to present state agency budget cuts to lawmakers later this month.

Mead announced in April that falling energy revenues would require all state agencies to cut their spending by 8 percent in the two-year budget cycle that starts July 1.

The cuts will reduce spending below the $3 billion general funds budget that lawmakers worked out earlier this year.

Mead will brief the Legislature's Joint Appropriations Committee on the budget cuts June 21. Mead has been meeting with state agency directors in recent weeks to work out specifics.

David Bush, spokesman for Mead, said Monday the governor doesn't intend to release details before his committee presentation.

Sen. Tony Ross of Cheyenne is chairman of the Senate Appropri-ations Committee. He says the cuts should balance the state's finances until the Legislature drafts a supplemental budget bill early next year.

Ross, a Republican, said some of Mead's budget cuts will go into effect July 1 with the start of a new state fiscal year.

He said Mead has been focusing on retaining state personnel while primarily eliminating vacant positions.

A state revenue update in April said incoming cash could fall $130 million below projections for the current fiscal year that runs through this month.

The update Consensus Revenue Estimating Group -- which assess energy markets and other factors -- said such a shortfall would represent about 9 percent of the total $1.44 billion total general fund/budget reserve account budget for the current fiscal year.

"If coal production declines further, if natural gas prices slide further after the completion of the winter withdrawal season, or if oil prices or production decline again in the next three months, the shortfall could be worse," the April CREG report stated.

Ross said he doesn't expect the CREG group will meet again before its regularly scheduled annual report in October.

Wyoming is the nation's leading coal-producing state. It relies heavily on taxes from energy production to fund state government. The state has seen widespread energy industry layoffs this year as major coal companies have sought bankruptcy protection and prices in other energy markets have remained low.

Sen. Drew Perkins, R-Casper, also is on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Perkins said Monday he hasn't heard specifics of what Mead's budget cuts will be.

"I'm not sure how much the governor's going to cut, but I think the anticipation is that it needs to be another 10 to 12 percent cut off the state budget," Perkins said.

Perkins said he understands the cuts won't be across-the-board for all state agencies, but will be program-specific. He noted that the Management Council, a panel of senior state lawmakers, already has recommended reducing the legislative budget by 12 percent -- a move that lawmakers will consider in the next legislation session.

"The people I've visited with that recognize that you've got to live within your means and recognize that when revenues are down, there have to be cuts," Perkins said. "I think people are concerned about what it is because every dollar in the budget has a constituency."

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