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Mead gives budget plans to lawmakers

Dec 11, 2012 - By Ben Neary, The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- Gov. Matt Mead told state lawmakers on Monday that it's time to come up with a stable source of funding for Wyoming highways. He said if they won't approve his suggestion to hike fuel taxes by 10 cents a gallon, they should dip into state mineral revenues for the money.

"Are we going to continue to fund roads piecemeal out of general funds, or are we going to find a funding source?" Mead asked members of the Legislature's Joint Appropriations Committee in Cheyenne.

Mead also laid out a proposal for a series of fiscal changes that would increase state government's ability to spend energy revenues that are currently earmarked for permanent savings.

"With regard to fiscal policy, I understand I'm making some fairly big sea changes," Mead said.

The Joint Appropriations Committee is holding budget hearings all week. The Legislature will adopt a supplemental budget bill in the general session that convenes next month. That's in addition to the two-year, $3.2-billion state funds budget it approved earlier this year.

The fuel tax increase would raise about $71 million a year, Mead said. The money would fund the Wyoming Department of Transportation and local government road projects, with out-of-state drivers paying a share.

Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, told Mead, "I can tell you that the miners and ranchers that I represent are decidedly unenthusiastic about the idea (of a fuel tax increase)." She said people are worried about their financial future.

Mead said that if lawmakers won't approve a fuel tax increase that they should dip into the state's energy tax revenues to come up with the money. He said that delaying maintenance on the state's highway system will result in decay that will be far more costly to fix in the future.

Mead also is recommending that lawmakers change how the state handles the proceeds from the sale of assets held by the state's Permanent Mineral Trust Fund, which holds nearly $6 billion. The state commonly sells securities when it's necessary to rebalance the distribution of money among different classifications of investments.

The state currently puts the proceeds from such "rebalancing" of the state's permanent fund into a reserve account that spills back into permanent savings when the balance goes over a set amount. Mead is proposing to allow some of the proceeds instead to go into the state's Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account, or "rainy day fund," where the money could be spent on state projects.

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