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Mead: No need now to slash state government spending again

Apr 24, 2013 - By Ben Neary, The Associated Press

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead says he will push to hold the state budget flat for the coming two-year budget cycle despite legislative calls for more state agency spending cuts.

Mead staid he has told senior state lawmakers he won't direct state agencies to honor lawmakers' request to present proposed spending cuts of up to 6 percent at legislative committee hearings this summer.

He said the state has been logging strong revenues recently and the cuts don't appear necessary.

"I don't see the need for additional sort of arbitrary percentage cuts, so my instructions to the agencies are going to be, 'find savings where you can, we'll look at programs, but let's try to hold relatively flat going into the next session,'" Mead said.

This year's supplemental budget cut state agency spending by $61 million, an average 6.5-percent reduction, from the state's ongoing two-year $3.2 billion general funds budget. Lawmakers this year also tacked on an additional $78 million in new spending, mainly for one-time projects.

Mead has jostled with lawmakers over how to implement funding cuts over the past couple of legislative sessions. In response to legislative direction, the governor's office last year presented lawmakers with detailed plans outlining possible levels of funding cuts.

Mead vetoed language in the supplemental budget bill this year that would have required state agencies to propose budget reductions of 4, 6 and 8 percent for each year of the coming 2015-16 biennium.

Despite Mead's veto, the Legislature's Management Council, a group of senior lawmakers, directed legislative committees to require the state agencies under their control to propose budget cuts of up to 6 percent at legislative hearings this year. Mead said he met with senior lawmakers last week and told them that state agencies won't present plans for the cuts.

"I said I don't want to have agencies going through the exercise, as we did last year, of going line by line, agency by agency, when that's not what I was

supporting," Mead said. "In other words, I'm not going to ask them to do that from the executive branch because I'm not supporting that. We will ask them to be fiscally conservative, find savings where they can. But I didn't see setting up varying degrees of cuts that I myself didn't support."

Michael Walden-Newman, chief investment officer for the state, said Monday that Wyoming has racked up $507 million in undistributed capital gains on its investments from July through February. The state has earned another $277 million in interest and dividend income on its investments, which total roughly $16.7 billion.

House Speaker Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, said Monday that he and Senate President Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, have instructed legislative committee leaders not to consider state agency budgets until the current fiscal year ends this summer.

"We think that the situation is a lot different than it was at the end of the Legislature session, and what we anticipated at the end of the Legislature session," Lubnau said. He said legislative committees may look at 2 percent cuts for state agencies but will also try to work toward Mead's call for a flat budget for the coming biennium.

"We've got a very good relationship with this governor, and we talk about things and try to come to reasonable and rational solutions to things, approaches to things," Lubnau said. "And this is just another step in that."

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