Mead gets new state budget for signature

Mar 6, 2012 The Associated Press

CHEYENNE (AP) -- The Wyoming Legislature on Monday approved a $3.2-billion budget bill that would keep state spending flat over the coming two years. The bill now goes to Gov. Matt Mead for his consideration.

Although lawmakers had warned state agencies late last year to prepare for budget cuts, the final budget generally avoid cutting agency budgets beyond trimming money available for outside contracts.

All state agencies are on notice, however, that they face 4-percent cuts when the Legislature convenes again early next year.

The budget includes no money for state employee pay raises and a separate Senate bill that would effectively prohibit cost of living increases for state retirees cleared its first vote in the House on Monday.

Rep. Rosie Berger, R-Big Horn, is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. She said Monday the Legislature approved a solid budget.

"We just decided that it was important that we address how we slow down government growth during these times when gas prices are just so low," Berger said after the House approved the budget. "And we can come back in the supplemental, and if gas prices are up, we can look at things differently. But if they're not, then we will be requesting from the agencies of course the 4-percent reduction."

Natural gas prices have dropped from $3.25 per thousand cubic feet in January, when state financial analysts made their most recent state budget projections to Monday, when gas was trading at roughly $2.25. A state analyst said each annual $1 drop in prices costs the state about $226 million.

The state's community colleges and the Wyoming Department of Health both receive modest increases under the budget bill. The colleges would get $7.5 million to address enrollment growth.

The budget calls for giving the Health Department, which received about $908 million from the state in the current two-year budget, an immediate increase of about 4 percent with the warning that it faces the 4-percent cut next year.

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