Freudenthal calls on state to 'ride out the storm'

Cheyenne, Wyo. – Gov. Dave Freudenthal says Wyoming needs to focus on its strengths as it works to "ride out the storm" of lower state revenues and important challenges to its future.

Beginning his "State of the State" address to a joint session of the Wyoming Legislature, Freudenthal said Wednesday that Wyoming residents need to understand the state is now in the beginning of a difficult period - not at the end of one.

Freudenthal says people in Wyoming are starting to feel the effects of a struggling national economy. He says many are seeing their hours cut back and more people are using state services.

The state's Consensus Revenue Estimating Group had projected in October that the state would have $900 million in extra revenue to spend in the fiscal year that begins this July. However, a revised report issued last week projects the state will have just under $260 million.

Officials blame lower energy prices and the international financial downturn for the lower projected state revenues.

On specific legislation, the Governor endorsed a pilot project to provide health care to those without insurance, bills that would move forward Wyoming's ability to capture and store carbon dioxide, and he was mostly supportive of workers compensation reform, although Freudenthal urged lawmakers to be wary of spending too much money in that area.

Casper Senator Charlie Scott is the chairman of the committee that is bringing many of those reforms to the floor.

Scott fears that if costs go up, employers will be hurt. He believes that in turn could harm workers in the long run.

Meanwhile, Wyoming lawmakers are already having challenges trying to decide where to spend state money this session. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Phil Nicholas says he has few problems with the governor's proposed budget. But he says many legislative committees have proposed bills with high price tags, which leads to challenges.

"It's taking the governors recommendation and trying to measure that against the work the select committees have been working on, specifically in mental health and substance abuse, and trying to say what is the appropriate amount, and trying to force those things into the budget the Governor has proposed."

Nicholas says they are still a long ways from finding a solution.