News

Aaron Schrank/WPR

  The state agency responsible for building and maintaining Wyoming’s K-12 schools will face huge revenue shortfalls in the years ahead. That’s according to a report by University of Wyoming economists.

The vast majority of school construction funding comes from coal lease bonus payments—and those revenues are expected to dry up completely in 2017.

Rebecca Martinez

Oil prices have been in freefall in recent months, dropping by more than half since June. For energy states like Wyoming, that’s bad news. As Governor Matt Mead pointed out recently, the state has a lot of money riding on oil.

This is not the first time Wyoming has weathered a downturn. In fact, for those who can remember all the way back to 2009 and crashing natural gas prices, today’s news may seem like deja vu. Booms and busts are part of the state’s economy. But do they have to be?

In Wyoming the energy industry accounts for nearly 70 to 80 percent of the state’s wealth. Wyoming builds its budget around energy prices and sales taxes that are connected to energy. When commodity prices fall, it’s difficult to fund government services.

After the oil downturn of the 1980’s funding the government was a challenge and Wyoming’s incoming Speaker of the House Kermit Brown remembers that it got especially bad in the late 90’s. 

Stephanie Joyce

In case you hadn’t heard, the United States has been experiencing an oil boom for the last five years. The boom has helped the country’s economic recovery and created thousands of jobs for people in states like North Dakota, Wyoming and Texas. But although booms are often heralded for the economic opportunities they provide…they also have a darker side, as Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce explains.

It’s almost two o’clock in the afternoon and the lunch rush at The Depot restaurant in Douglas, Wyoming is just beginning to taper off.

Few people have had a more intimate experience with a boom and bust economy than former Governor Jim Geringer. The Republican took office in 1995 and left in 2002 as the state was enjoying a natural gas boom.  Geringer also chaired the Senate Appropriations committee in the early 1990’s when budget cutting was the norm. Geringer says to prepare for a bust, the state should prioritize programs.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

This is an updated post from a previous story: INSIDE ENERGY: A Tiny Wyoming Town, Stuck In (Boom) Traffic

Miles Bryan

For a little shop like the Bill Store an energy boom can be a blessing. Nothing is better for a small business than lots of customers with cash to burn. But when wells close and energy workers head out of town the businesses that remain have to figure out how to survive.

Verne Waldner bought the Conoco Service Station in Wamsutter Wyoming back in 1973. There wasn’t much to the town then, and there still isn’t. Wamsutter sits off Interstate 80 and has a current population of just under 500.

Miles Bryan

If you move to Wyoming to work in oil or gas you probably know to expect long hours and a big paycheck. You might even know to expect to be sleeping in your car. Housing is a perennial issue in boomtowns, one that pits the needs of energy workers against the interests of long term residents and there’s no easy fix. 

Caroline Ballard

Wyoming Public Radio’s Caroline Ballard sat down with Phil Roberts, a history professor at the University of Wyoming, to understand more about the history of booms and busts in Wyoming. He says it's a cycle the state has gone through many times before.

Melodie Edwards

When you think of towns impacted by energy development, it usually involves transient workers, increased crime, and RV parks. Maybe not the most family oriented place. But plenty of oil and gas workers try to make it work, which could be just the cure for some of these social ills. The challenge is finding these families adequate housing. 

karenschutte.com

Karen Schutte grew up in Wyoming's Big Horn Basin. “Seed Of The Volga” is the second of a trilogy that records her family’s history of German immigration. In 2014, Karen’s work was awarded the PEN Award from the Rocky Mountain Fictions Writers.

Wyoming Arts Council

Winners of the Governor’s Arts Awards were announced this week. For the first time in many years, the winners are all visual artists.

Governor Matt Mead made the final selections based on recommendations from the Wyoming Arts Council board. In a news release, Governor Mead said “These three artists...are representative of the many wonderful artists we have in Wyoming who contribute to a thriving arts economy.”

Wyoming’s economy is growing, but the state has not made up for job losses from 2009 and 2010. And that’s hit Wyoming’s young adults especially hard.

A report from Wyoming’s Department of Workforce Services found that the number of young adults working in the state has declined 22 percent over the past decade.

The State of Wyoming may be getting into the coal export business.

Last month’s visit to Wyoming by former world chess champion Garry Kasparov wasn’t just about global politics (listen to his interview here)—it was also about chess.

Stefan Heinz and his 13-year-old son Jakob had a chance to chat with Kasparov during his visit. “It was really extraordinary to meet him,” says Jakob. “He’s probably the smartest person I’ve ever met. Actually, definitely [the smartest].” (Did Kasparov show him how to win a game in three moves? Unfortunately, “no.”)

Diana Denison

Laramie-based jazz guitarist and vocalist Peter Queal visited on November 19th with Grady Kirkpatrick on Morning Music. They talked about the Queal’s new CD Humility and played a few tracks.

LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL

A hire made three years ago by the Albany County Sheriff’s department is now coming under increased scrutiny. Deputy Derek Colling was fired by the Las Vegas Police three years ago for beating an unarmed man.

The victim was videotaping Colling during the incident. He was later awarded 100-thousand dollars in a settlement with the Las Vegas Police. Albany County Sheriff Dave O’Malley says that did not affect his decision to hire Colling.

Administrators at Central Wyoming College’s culinary and hospitality program in Jackson are considering a new class schedule to allow students to continue working at hotels and resorts during the region’s busy seasons.

Students working towards associates degrees at CWC Jackson currently attend classes on a typical semester schedule. Program Director Amy Madera says the new schedule would be condensed into the tourism off-season—October and November—and April and May.

Representative John Patton of Sheridan says he will sponsor a bill that would eliminate a budget footnote that barred the State Board of Education from spending money on reviewing or adopting the Next Generation Science Standards.

The controversial standards were blocked by lawmakers in March. They took issue with how the role of humans in global climate change was presented in the science standards for K-12 education. Patton says education standards are the responsibility of the State Board, not lawmakers.

A legislative committee has rejected the Wyoming Department of Health's proposed Medicaid Expansion plan in favor of a bill crafted by the committee.  The Share plan was also endorsed by the governor.

The bill  approved by the committee would provide participants with a Medicaid-funded health savings account that they could use to purchase private insurance.  Senator Charles Scott said that he believes that will encourage participants to be careful with their health care spending.

Gillette Representative Eric Barlow said that remains to be seen.

Associated Press

For the first time, Wyoming employers could face stiff fines if their workers die on the job.   

The state does not currently distinguish workplace fatalities from other kinds of safety violation, but under a bill endorsed by the Joint Health, Labor, and Social Services Committee large employers could be fined up to $250-thousand dollars and those who employ fewer than 250 employees could face fines up to 50-thousand dollars.

Senator Charles Scott says Wyoming’s workplace safety record is among the worst in the country and it’s time to send a message.

Stephanie Joyce

As oil prices continue to plummet, energy-producing states are starting to feel the squeeze. Wyoming crude is selling for half what it was in June. That price drop means companies are making less money -- and so is the state.

This year, for the first time in decades, severance taxes from oil surpassed coal and came close to knocking natural gas out of its number one spot, but now, with oil prices falling, Governor Matt Mead says the state is losing out on a lot of money.

Bob Beck

Members of a legislative committee say they plan to support at least one bill that would expand Medicaid services in the state to provide Health Insurance to a low income population that can’t afford health insurance.

The committee is looking at two bills and there is a chance they may be combined into one piece of legislation.   The state has proposed a plan where it would use federal dollars to provide health insurance.  Senator Charles Scott has crafted a plan that uses Medicaid dollars to fund a health savings account that participants would use to purchase private insurance.

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead presented his 156-million dollar budget to the Joint Appropriations Committee and said that he wants to focus on a number of building projects in an effort to invest in Wyoming.

Mead argued that the state has enough money to pay for his budget, but Casper Representative Tim Stubson says he’s not so sure.

“The governor’s focus on one time spending is appropriate.  I don’t think there will be enough to cover all of his requests as well as legislative priorities, so there’s going to have to be some trimming along the way.”

A proposed measure in Wyoming’s legislature would give terminally ill patients access to drugs not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Patients would be able to access drugs and devices that have already successfully completed clinical trials and shown promise to be effective, but are not yet approved by the FDA. The drug’s manufacturer would then work with patients and doctors to provide the experimental drug.Republican State Senator Bruce Burns is sponsoring the bill. He says this bill could offer hope to patients who have run out of options.

The United Health Foundation says Wyoming has fallen 8 in spots in the organization’s annual health rankings.

Wyoming ranks 25th for overall health in 2014.  Foundation spokeswoman Kristin Hellmer says Wyoming lost ground in the number of people who consider themselves physically active and the numbers of people who are obese.  She says obesity can lead to chronic illness.  Hellmer urges health officials to be proactive.

Caroline Ballard

Protesters filled Simpson Plaza in front of the University of Wyoming last Thursday. They were calling for an end to police brutality and racism, following grand jury decisions to not indict police officers in the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York. Protesters and observers had a variety of viewpoints:

Stephanie Joyce

Oil prices continued their months-long freefall this week. The US benchmark crude price dropped below $60 a barrel for the first time in five years on Thursday. In Wyoming and other oil producing states, those lower prices are starting to take a toll on companies. 

Cyclone Drilling is one of Wyoming's largest drilling contractors. Manager Patrick Hladky says if prices don’t rebound quickly, he’s expecting to idle at least two of the company’s 27 rigs by the end of the month and even more in the first quarter of next year.

Meeteetse School Wins Science Award

Dec 12, 2014
Wyoming game and fish department

A tiny school in northwest Wyoming is a huge winner in a national science award.  In September, Meeteetse was one of four thousand schools that applied for the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest. Now, they’ve won the state contest. And are one of only 55 competitors for a $120,000 grand prize.

The tiny district has only 111 students in the entire K-12 program. 

Yet, the high school science class won the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow state contest by winning $20,000 in technology.

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