Governor Matt Mead released his proposed state budget for the next two years. The governor says it includes opportunities for savings and cuts 17 million dollars from the existing budget. But some in the legislature hope to cut even more in coming weeks. Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck reports.
HOST: On Thursday, Governor Matt Mead released his proposed state budget for the next two years. The governor says it includes opportunities for savings and cuts 17 million dollars from the existing budget. But some in the legislature hope to cut even more in coming weeks. Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck reports.
Bob Beck: Sitting in his 2nd floor office in Laramie is Senator Phil Nicholas. Nicholas is the chairman of the Appropriations Committee. Nicholas leans over a chart that shows projected revenues for the state. It looks like layers of rock and it tells him that Wyoming will be getting a lot less money. Nicholas says when Wyoming’s energy boom started about ten years ago, legislators doubled their spending.
Nicholas: “When you have a lot of money to spend, spending sort of grows with your capacity to spend. So as our revenues increased our expenditures almost escalated if you will, along with our available revenues.”
BECK: Nicholas says they funded what could be argued were needed and worthwhile programs at time.
Nicholas: You don’t have to walk very far to see areas that you think, whether it be in Juvenile Justice, whether it be in the Medicaid program, whether it’s in mental health or substance abuse, areas where you could spend more money if it were available.
BECK: But in the last couple of months, Wyoming’s revenue picture has suggested that funding that comes to the state, mainly through energy development will be flattening out. For that reason, Nicholas led a push to call for major reductions of spending to the tune of five to eight percent. Governor Matt Mead proposed a two percent cut and will ask the legislature to give him two years to make further cuts. Nicholas worries that might be too long.
Nicholas: I’m a person who believes that you don’t wait for your problems to get worse, you begin to address them as soon as you see you have a problem.
BECK: Senator John Hastert of Green River is the only Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee. He has a different view.
Hastert: I’m really unsure that we need to do that at this time.
BECK: Lawmakers make budget decisions based on two things. One comes from projections of the Consensus Revenue estimating group or CREG. They are a group of experts who forecast future revenues. The other is a regular report documenting how the state budget stands…it is known as a Goldenrod. Hastert says the push for budget cuts is puzzling.
Hastert: The way I read our CREG report and our goldenrod, it is not indicating that we will be in a budget crisis in the foreseeable future.
BECK: Hastert favors holding the line on increased spending and he says that should be enough. Another person a little surprised at the concern over future revenues is one of the people who is the co-chairman of the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group, Buck McVeigh. He says their forecast is far from a doomsday scenario. In fact, he thinks the revenue picture will continue to be better than most places. But McVeigh worked in state government when energy industry busted in the 80’s, so he sees this as a good exercise.
McVeigh: “This reflects a major caution from the leadership, maybe an eye opener that we certainly don’t want to overspend our means.”
BECK: Someone who really likes this is the Director of the Wyoming Taxpayers Association Erin Taylor. Her group has opposed some of the development of new programs, because they would have long term impacts.
Taylor: We’ve been one of just a few groups that have been out there saying we need to watch what’s going into this budget and make sure we are not increasing these ongoing obligations. It is not something we turn our thumb down on that’s for sure.
BECK: Taylor also notes that education will continue to cost the state a lot of money and the federal health care law will certainly drive up costs. You don’t need to explain that to Tom Forslund. He’s the former Casper City Manager who was brought in to oversee the Department of Health and find ways to slow down rising costs.
Forslund isn’t quite sure how he can cut eight percent from his budget that is rising due to federal requirements. Those requirements that also are getting less federal money. Forslund says they could look at getting rid of programs that aren’t required, such as funding for the developmentally disabled or reduce what they pay Doctors to provide Medicaid. Of course, there is a chance doctors will reject that reduction.
Forslund: They can just basically say no, it’s not worth my time. The lower the reimbursements, the tougher it is for people with essentially little means to have access to providers.
BECK: However, Forslund is looking into some innovative ways to find savings that might satisfy lawmakers, while reducing the impact on citizens. Nicholas says he does not promote mass firings, although he supports not filling all vacancies as a way to reduce the workforce. He says if the reductions are made, it will actually prevent mass firings.
Nicholas: For example, it’s not inconsistent to say we are going to give pay increases to reward people for their work, but to reduce the total number of employees so that they have greater responsibilities.
BECK: When all is said and done, Nicholas would like to double Wyoming’s rainy day account to three billion dollars, to address any revenue emergencies in the future. So during Joint Appropriations meetings, he will push for large budget cuts. But it’s a long process and it will be up to entire legislature to decide what eventually happens.