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Mead, lawmakers clash on cash

Feb 6, 2013 - By Ben Neary, The Associated Press

State Sen. Eli Bebout of Riverton is at the center of the spat

with the governor.

CHEYENNE -- Gov. Matt Mead wants to meet with Wyoming lawmakers over the next year to try to resolve a fundamental disagreement over whether the state should be putting its extra cash into permanent savings or into its more-accessible rainy day fund.

Mead has recommended that the state put less into permanent savings and school construction to allow it to beef up deposits into its rainy day fund. He says flat revenue projections mean the state may need to reach the money to pay for government operations.

"They obviously disagree with that," Mead said of lawmakers. "But I will continue to work over the next year on that issue, and hopefully we can make some headway and come to a consensus on the appropriate way to look at permanent versus the rainy day fund savings."

Both the House and the Senate on Tuesday gave their initial approval to a budget bill drafted by the Legislature's Joint Appropriations Committee that disregards Mead's recommendations. Many senior lawmakers say they want to continue to put more money into permanent savings, the interest from which helps fund state government.

The House and the Senate will continue working on the budget bill this week.

Mead had proposed redirecting about $130 million of energy revenues a year that's now flowing into permanent savings into the state's Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account. He also called for redirecting about $700 million the state stands to receive in federal coal lease bonus payments over the next five years into the accessible account instead of proceeding to spend it on school construction.

Mead has said flat revenue projections from state financial analysts tell him the state should have ready cash on hand.

vCurrent projections call for Wyoming's general fund revenues, which rely heavily on taxes on mineral production, to rise from an estimated $1 billion in fiscal year 2013 to only $1.1 billion by fiscal year 2018.

Putting more money into the stabilization reserve account would allow Wyoming to smooth out revenue swings, Mead said. The fund would grow to nearly $2.2 billion under Mead's approach by the end of the current biennium, compared with roughly $1.6 billion otherwise.

Sen. Eli Bebout, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said this week the panel disagrees with Mead's call to reduce deposits into the state's Permanent Mineral Trust Fund.

"We just think that we have to look past the other half of this budget session, the next biennial budget session," said Bebout, R-Riverton. "We have to look down the road five, six, seven, eight years to work on that permanent fund because of its importance to our revenues."

Mead said he also disagrees with the Joint Appropriations Committee's recommendation to abandon his plan for state employee pay raises.

The governor had proposed $11 million for public employee raises, not including teachers, of which $2.5 million would be used for one-time bonuses. That would have covered average raises of about 2 percent for state employees.

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Legislature, Wyoming