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Mead says Wyoming remains strong but feeling fiscal pinch

Feb 14, 2012 - By Ben Neary The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- Gov. Matt Mead acknowledged Monday that Wyoming is not an island, and that energy revenues, long the bulwark of the state's economy, are slipping as national and international factors reduce natural gas prices.

Nonetheless, the Republican governor in his second State of the State address, hammered on Wyoming's strengths, saying its people, its agricultural heritage and its vast natural resources leave it positioned for future success.

"Working together, I know that Wyoming can continue to be the best, both in title, and in reality," Mead said.

Mead said the state's agriculture and tourism industries, as well as continued energy production and long-term savings, combine to put Wyoming far ahead of many other states.

"We have over $14 billion dollars in assets and can build on savings again this year while continuing to invest for future success through wise appropriations," Mead said. "Wyoming remains strong financially."

While the rest of the nation continues to face high unemployment, Mead said, Wyoming's employment picture remains strong. While the national unemployment rate stood above 8 percent in December, he noted that the Wyoming's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate that month was 5.8 percent.

Wyoming's revenue projections have been slipping in recent months. State analysts were projecting natural gas to average $4 per thousand cubic feet this year when Mead first proposed his $3.4 billion state funds budget in December.

Just a month later, analysts cut that projected average to $3.25 per thousand cubic feet, a cut that forced Mead to slash his spending recommendations by over $100 million.

Gas prices have continued to fall, meanwhile, a fact that some analysts lay at the feet of increased production from new gas plays in other states.

Some analysts are now calling for natural gas prices to average only $2.50 per thousand cubic feet this year. The Legislature's Joint Appropriations Committee in January approved setting aside $150 million from state reserves that Mead could tap into if necessary to keep government functioning.

Despite falling revenues, Mead called on lawmakers to resist the call for across-the-board funding cuts for state departments.

"We don't want to be penny-wise and pound foolish," Mead said. "We have sufficient resources to save wisely, invest wisely in our communities and our infrastructure, and at the same time, make necessary reductions in budget growth."

He has called on lawmakers to continue strong investment in counties and local governments as well as continued spending to maintain the state's highways.

Mead said he's aware that not everyone in the state is doing well.

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