Legislature set to convene this week

Feb 11, 2014 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

In his second year as co-chairman of Wyoming's Joint Appropriations Committee, State Sen. Eli Bebout (R-Riverton) says the state is in good shape financially.

"Our revenues are looking fairly decent," Bebout said. "I'm pretty optimistic."

In his budget proposal, Gov. Matt Mead said the state is on "surer ground" now than it was last year, with more revenues in the budget than previously forecast, mostly due to capital gains.

Projected revenue for the 2015-2016 biennium is just under $3.7 billion, according to the governor's proposal.

As a result, Mead said agencies will not be required to remove any more money from their budgets this year.

"We do not have to repeat the painful process of last winter where a subdued revenue forecast resulted in executive branch cuts of over 6 percent - cuts which just took effect on July 1, 2013," Mead wrote.

Bebout wants to be careful when allocating money, however, particularly when it comes to extra funds that weren't used last year.

"We have some one-time money left over - but it's one-time," Bebout said. "We need to be very careful. ... It makes no sense at all in your personal life if you have a bonus check (for) $50,000 and you elevate your standard of living based on that."

Mead shared the same note of caution in his budget proposal.

"We should not get ahead of ourselves and spend like there is no tomorrow," he wrote.

Bebout wants to use extra money to build up the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund, which contains a portion of severance taxes from mineral revenues in the state.

"If we have money from one-time capital gains or one-time events, we stick it into the permanent fund and use that for future revenues for our kids," Bebout said.

In the past, he said, lawmakers have spent too much money while revenues were high, leading to cuts later on.

"It's like a yo-yo," Bebout said. "You have to control growth."

He said some expansion is positive, but it is important to keep government operations from growing too much.

During the past decade, and especially in the last two years, he said Wyoming has succeeded in spending less money.

"That's what we need to do, is keep (the budget) flat or growing at a very small rate," Bebout said.

He commended Mead's budget proposal, which includes about $45 million for state agencies - down from about $500 million the agencies initially requested.

Mead said the general fund budget, which has been growing steadily since the 2005-2006 biennium, has now flattened.

'He also pointed out that Wyoming's legislative stabilization reserve account, or rainy day account, has grown from $800 million to about $1.7 billion under his administration since 2010.

"He did a good job," Bebout said. "It's up to us to further refine (the budget)."

The JAC has been meeting with agency representatives from throughout the state who have explained their need for increased funding this year.

The legislature's budget session convenes Monday, Feb. 10 with Gov. Mead's State of the State address.

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