Economy

Bob Beck

Cities and towns are terrified about their financial future especially when it comes to having a stable source of revenue. Years ago legislators removed direct funding to local governments, preferring instead to fund them on a bi-annual basis from the state general fund. But Lawmakers have been engaged in budget cuts and communities in particular fear they will lose their general fund money. One solution is to have the ability to raise their own revenue.

Bob Beck

  

On Tuesday, City Council members and others will converge on the legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee to suggest ways that communities could raise more money for themselves.

Lawmakers are worried about maintaining local government funding due to the downturn in the energy economy and because of education funding needs. Wyoming Association of Municipalities Director Rick Kaysen joins us to say that if local governments could raise more money internally, it could address budget uncertainty. 

ENDOW, Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming, logo
ENDOW

The state’s economic diversification group, or ENDOW, has submitted its first report to Governor Mead and the state legislature. It attempts to establish a baseline on the status of Wyoming's economy. The report outlines workforce data, state-by-state comparisons, and trends in different sectors.

Wyoming Legislature

Early this summer lawmakers were looking at a massive shortfall in education funding and overall revenue. That pushed lawmakers into a lengthy discussion about possible tax hikes. The idea was to hold a number of hearings over the summer on a variety of proposals and then pass bills that would raise $100 million, $200 million and $300 million. But a funny thing happened on the way to passing tax legislation the state’s revenue picture improved.

treasurer.state.wy.us

One reason some lawmakers have backed off on their support of tax increases is that Wyoming is making a lot of money from investments.

Unrealized gains sit around $900 million and even the energy industry has had a slight uptick.

State Treasurer Mark Gordon says that it’s true, things are good. But he also tells Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck that lawmakers should be careful about using investment money versus a more stable source of revenue. 

With permission from Rock Springs Main Street/Urban Renewal Agency

Urban Renewal Agency Director Chad Banks was leading a group of Rock Springs residents through a tunnel beneath the train tracks that break the downtown business district in half. The underpass doubles as an art gallery, meant to advertise local artists and lure people to explore both sides of the railroad.

 

The railroad gave Rock Springs its start as a coal town. Local mines fueled the trains that reached the area in the 1860s. Public Services Director Amy Allen said the city’s layout matches the scatter of those original mines.

 At Torrington's H & R Block with Sally Cole, Linda Keener, Dawn Pickinpaugh -- in order from left to right
Cooper McKim / Wyoming Public Radio

On a sunny day in downtown Torrington, local businesses are getting ready for the solar eclipse that’s now only days away. The H & R Block is one of them — accountants there are selling original eclipse-themed t-shirts. There’s a table outside, with black and white shirts of all sizes hung up behind it.

“So, what was the inspiration to make these shirts and to sell them here?” I asked. 

“Bills!” Sally Cole replied.

spglobal.com

S & P global ratings downgraded Wyoming’s credit rating from Triple-A to a Double-A-Plus. That means the next time Wyoming tries to borrow money, it will likely see a higher interest rate.

It’s like applying for a mortgage — if you have a high credit rating, you’ll pay lower interest rates. As Wyoming faces a downgrade in its credit rating, the same idea applies.

This is because there’s less money coming into the government’s coffers due to and low contributions to retirement funds.

The Modern West 22: Climate Change In A Fossil-Fuel State

Apr 20, 2017
Ken Koschnitzki

Wyoming’s economy revolves around energy production. But climate change raises questions about what role fossil fuels will play in the state’s future.

twitter.com/Uber

Uber has been operating in the state for just over a month now. Their launch followed Governor Matt Mead’s signing of a bill to legally authorize ride-sharing companies in Wyoming. However, while some consumers have been taking advantage of the service, others are less excited.

Branden French was one of the very first drivers to start working for Uber in March. Right now, he’s a university student in Laramie. He said Mead signed the bill on a Friday, and he was on the road that weekend.

Stephanie Joyce

Gillette and other towns in Northeast Wyoming may be looking to carbon products - goods like water filters and building materials – to stabilize the coal industry.

The New Growth Alliance, which includes Sheridan, Buffalo, and Gillette, is a group focused on economic development in Northeast Wyoming. It recently held a conference to discuss alternative coal markets, and now the communities are combining efforts to recruit other types of businesses, as well.  

Craig Blumenshine

  

It’s been a little over a month since the Wyoming legislative session ended and today Governor Matt Mead joins us to reflect on the session among other things. Many left the legislative session with bad feelings, but Mead tells Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck he was pleased with what lawmakers did for economic development. Among other things, the legislature supported his ENDOW plan for diversifying the economy. 

Wyoming’s personal income in 2016 declined by 1.7 percent, but the fourth quarter improvement has some believing things have stabilized. Economist Jim Robinson with Wyoming’s Economic Analysis Division said the economy was in very bad shape last summer, but there were signs of life at the end of the year, which gives him some minor optimism. But Robinson said that low oil and gas prices will keep that optimism in check.

“I think the optimism right now is that it won’t get any worse and it looks like it will stay like this for a while longer.”

University of Wyoming

  

President Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to enact stricter immigration policies, and the topic of reform has remained a common thread under the new administration.

University of Wyoming College of Law Professor Noah Novogrodsky is leading a team of law students conducting an economic impact study of the contributions immigrant workers make to Teton County.

GOVERNOR.GOV.WYO

The Wyoming House voted for a final time to establish the ENDOW initiative, or the Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming. The initiative was introduced by Governor Matt Mead last November to diversify the state’s economy and now his office is seeking public input. 

State of Wyoming Legislature

On Thursday, the Wyoming House of Representatives Committee passed the first reading of a bill that would establish a council charged with studying and implementing a plan to diversify Wyoming’s economy. The bill would create the ENDOW Council (or Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming Council).

Lander Representative Jim Allen proposed an amendment adding a tribal member to the council, which he said fits with the stated mission of the council.

Wyoming State Legislature

The Wyoming Senate discussed over 25 different amendments to their budget bill and adopted 12 of them on Wednesday. One amendment that was approved reduces salaries of most state employees by two percent. The bill would exclude employees of the University of Wyoming, the state’s community colleges, school districts, and the judicial branch.

Senate President Eli Bebout sponsored the bill. He said the state should consider how the private sector addresses financial trouble.

Wyoming Legislature

The Wyoming Senate is debating a bill that could lead to a long awaited 20 year plan to diversify Wyoming’s economy. The bill sets up the Economically Needed Diversity Options For Wyoming Council, or ENDOW Council.

Senate President Eli Bebout said it’s difficult to get legislators to think long term, but he thinks the current economic climate will help.

Wyoming Legislature

A Wyoming Senate Committee moved a bill forward to support Governor Matt Mead’s efforts to diversify the state’s economy. The Senate Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee passed the bill to form the ENDOW Executive Council, or the Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming Council.

Bob Beck

  

After a historic downturn in revenue, the Wyoming legislature has started this year’s session with a number of concerns. They still have a $150 million shortfall in revenue to fund their current budget and K-12 education funding has a $400 million deficit and they have no money for school construction. While legislative committees have been focused on other issues, there will soon come a point where lawmakers need to figure out how to move forward. 

Wyoming has seen a higher rig count and more coal production in the last few months, but that doesn’t change much for its financial picture, according to the latest Consensus Revenue Estimating Group or CREG report. It shows that the general fund was up by $900,000 but that isn’t nearly enough to fill the gaping $156 million hole in the two year $3 billion budget.

CREG Co-Chairman Don Richards said while there are signs of a rebounding economy, the numbers still aren’t great.

picserver.org/e/economy.html

Wyoming’s economy is the most sluggish in the nation, according to a report released by Bloomberg in December. That ranking came from analysis of employment, income, stock and home prices, as well as late mortgage payments around the nation. Bloomberg analysts attributed the state’s poor score to the recent energy downturn, as well as the fact that Wyoming has no urban center, where job growth tends to accelerate.

Jennie Hutchinson

There's big bucks to be made on Wyoming's big bucks, according to a new report by the University of Wyoming that evaluated the amount of money generated from hunting and fishing.

So far, the report has studied four counties: Park, Sweetwater, Albany and Fremont. All saw more than $20 million in revenue generated by hunters and anglers, and Albany County had the highest revenues with $25 million.

Wyoming's largest economic sector has taken a nosedive in recent years with the crash in oil, coal, and natural gas prices, but the August Wyoming Insight report from the Economic Analysis division shows things may be starting to stabilize. 

According to the report, the unemployment rate has stayed at 5.7 percent since June.

“Both natural gas price and oil price have been rising,” said state economist Wenlin Liu. “That’s a good signal. And another sign we have been seeing is that the unemployment insurance claim has been flattening.”

Working families.org

A group called Fed Up is hoping to get the ear of the Federal Reserve this week. The Fed is holding its annual meeting in Jackson Hole and several of the central bank's officials have agreed to meet with members of the Fed Up campaign. 

The Federal Reserve is currently considering raising interest rates, but Fed Up Field Director Shawn Sebastian said it’s not the time.

The High Plains wind farm, near McFadden, Wyoming.
Leigh Paterson

  

Wind turbines are pretty sleek-looking from a distance, but there’s a lot going on behind those spinning blades.

Bryan Boatright, a wind energy technology instructor at Laramie County Community College, took me up into a deconstructed nacelle. A nacelle is a big rectangular box that holds generation components like the generator and drive train. Each one looks like an RV.

Wyoming Education Association

  

  

Educators from across the country are meeting in Washington D.C. this week for the annual National Education conference. Kathy Vetter is the Wyoming Education Association President. While some states still struggle with funding, others have restored education money to pre-2008 levels. That’s not the case in Wyoming, where a downturn in the energy economy has led to cuts in education funding for the first time in many years. Vetter told Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck that the cuts came faster than educators thought they would. 

University of Wyoming Facebook

Wyoming is facing difficult economic times. Last year, the state lost 6,500 jobs, mostly in oil and gas, and things haven’t much better this year. The state government is making major reductions and even Wyoming Medical Center in Casper cut 58 positions. For that reason, right now is a tough time for University of Wyoming’s graduates to enter the job force, particularly if they want to stay in the state.

Road Tripping Along North Dakota's Oil Bust Alley

May 13, 2016

Dickinson, North Dakota is a very different place than it was two years ago, when this oilfield town of less than 30,000 people was one of the fastest growing cities in the country. Since then, the price of oil has fallen by more than 50 percent. Nowhere are signs of the slowdown more visible than along Dickinson’s Highway 22. I decided to take a road trip to see what had changed along oil bust alley.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

Gail Japp’s bright blue eyes are the kind you keep on noticing. I met the 64-year-old at her home outside of Gillette, Wyoming on a gray, windy, day in April. She had just finishing filling out unemployment paperwork.

Japp is one of the 235 coal miners who were laid off by Peabody Energy in March. Arch Coal cut around 230 positions that same week.

I asked her how she felt that day. Her reply: “Devastated, scared. What in the world am I gonna do? I’m single. I’m 64. I have a mortgage. Am I gonna lose my house?”

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