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In another sign that Wyoming’s economy is improving, statewide inflation increased by just over two percent in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Bob Beck


The Wyoming Legislature spent roughly $40 million on a variety of economic development initiatives aimed at creating jobs and diversifying the economy. Some left the session very excited about what they did while others were anxious.

Wyoming Legislature Senator Eli Bebout
Bob Beck

The Wyoming Legislature still has work to do. Despite working for 20 days the House and Senate will reconvene later this week to hopefully reach a compromise on one bill that funds building projects and another that trims school funding. 

People listen to late night proceedings in the Wyoming House of Representatives
Bob Beck

While budget cutting and education may have been in the headlines, the Wyoming legislature did pass a number of economic development measures this legislative session. Wyoming Public Radio's Bob Beck speaks with Jerimiah Rieman who is the Governor's Director of Economic Diversification Strategy and Initiatives.  

Senate President Eli Bebout discusses SF-98 with the House Revenue Committee
Cooper McKim / Wyoming Public Radio

A bill seeking to incentivize more oil and gas production has died in the House Revenue Committee with a 6 to 3 vote. Senate File 98 would have cut the severance tax rate for oil and gas in half after the second year of production until the end of the fourth.

Bob Beck

The Wyoming House and Senate wrapped up budget work Friday. As predicted the Senate made several reductions to education spending. Senate Education Chairman Hank Coe says the cuts were outside of the classroom and were necessary when you look at the state’s fiscal situation. 

“If all the cuts take place that we are talking about here with what we did last year, we are talking about 5 percent in cuts total. Most agencies have taken ten and 12 percent, community colleges have taken 15 percent cuts, the University has cut $41 million. So, I think there’s room for reductions.”

Legislative Service Office

Despite some strong opposition, the Wyoming House of Representatives gave final approval to a bill that would set up an investments task force with the goal of getting more money out of Wyoming’s investments. 

Tennessee Watson

The Wyoming House of Representatives wrapped up week one of the 2018 Budget Session on Friday shortly before 3:30 p.m., which has some policymakers disappointed.

 

The last day to introduce bills, the early adjournment meant there were over 15 bills that got the ax without even being discussed. House Minority Leader Cathy Connolly said the House never got to discuss a tobacco tax, a sales and use tax rate and changes to a real estate tax, among others.

 

Bob Beck

This week, after months of discussion, a legislative committee defeated a number of tax increase measures. The Joint Revenue Committee was hoping to find money to pay for a revenue shortfall that some thought could reach a billion dollars. Then a funny thing happened over the summer, the revenue picture improved just enough that taxes could be avoided. 

Wyoming Legislature

After hearing that the state’s revenue picture is improving thanks to rising oil prices, the legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee rejected five tax proposals. 

They were intended to help address a $500 million shortfall in education funding. The committee defeated a one percent leisure and hospitality tax on a tie vote and refused to consider four other proposals that included raising sales and property taxes. 

House Minority Leader Cathy Connolly says when the short-term funding crisis disappeared this fall, there was no longer an appetite for taxes.                     

APA Consulting

Education is underfunded in Wyoming, according to a new report from consultants contracted by the Select Committee on School Finance to take an in-depth look at the state’s educational program.

 

Tennessee Watson

As Wyoming policymakers prepare for the 2018 Budget Session, in which education will be a big topic, teachers are stepping up efforts to make their voices heard.

On Thursday evening, teachers and community members gathered in the backroom of a Laramie restaurant for a postcard writing party.

 

Legislative Service Office

Wyoming’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Group says that Wyoming’s income is slightly increasing and is $141 million over its January forecast.   

The report indicates increases in such things as interest income, sales tax, and oil revenues. Lawmakers use the CREG forecast to craft the state budget. A lot of that increase is already in hand due to end of the fiscal year revenue collections. 

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.

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. 

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 State Parks, Historic Sites and Trails

The tight economic times have prompted many Wyoming agencies to look at where they can raise more money and Wyoming State Parks is no different.

The legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee is proposing to give the parks program more flexibility to set daily pass and campground fees as they see fit, rather than keeping a cap on fees as it is currently.

Jackson Representative Mike Gierau sits on the committee and says Wyoming State Park Fees are cheaper than other states. 

Shelley Simonton

With the economic downturn, sales tax income has plummeted and local government finds itself in a world of financial hurt. Hiring freezes, layoffs, decisions not to move forward with road repairs, and the reduction of other services have either been approved or contemplated across the state.

Recently the Wyoming Association of Municipalities, or WAM, urged the legislature’s revenue committee to consider ways to allow communities to generate more revenue. Bob Beck asked WAM Executive Director Shelley Simonton how dire the situation is.

Bob Beck

Wyoming lawmakers are addressing a revenue shortfall that could reach 600 million dollars by 2018, by making some budget cuts and using some of the nearly $2 billion dollars they have in savings. But things could get worse very soon, especially since the state is losing a major source of income for school construction, which is coal. 

Wikipedia Creative Commons

Thanks to dropping energy prices, Wyoming’s sales tax collections are down 75 million dollars compared to the same time last year. 

The State Economic Analysis Division says after the first six months of the fiscal year, sales and use tax collections have declined by 17 percent compared to the same time period last year. Economist Jim Robinson says it’s been awhile since Wyoming has seen such a downturn.

You know you probably have to go back to the recession of 2008 to see numbers we are looking at right now I think.”

Bob Beck

Thanks to a downturn in energy prices, Wyoming lawmakers are in a bind. As legislators prepare for the upcoming legislative session they will likely have to cut the budget, dip into reserves, and possibly divert money from flowing into reserve accounts in order to pay for the next two years.

Wyoming Legislature

  

This week, the Legislature’s Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration recommended that the state stick with the same school funding model it’s been using for the past decade. That means school districts would get basically the same amount of money they have been getting.

Duncan Harris / Creative Commons

An unfolding court case might change how Powder River Basin coal is taxed in Montana. Last week, a Montana district court heard oral arguments in a lawsuit pitting Cloud Peak Energy against the state.

The state is asking for $3.4 million in back taxes, arguing that Cloud Peak underpaid between 2005 and 2007 by selling to an affiliated company at below-market value.

The Wyoming Senate gave initial support to a bill that would allow the state to become part of a multi-state lottery, but not before hearing a lot of questions.  

Much of the debate centered on how the lottery would be administered and costs surrounding it.  Senator Bruce Burns says money raised would go to city and county governments.
 

“They estimate that it will bring in roughly about 25 million and that it should clear based on other states close to our size about a little over six million dollars a year net,” Burns says.

Wyoming House passes bill to create state lottery

Despite concerns that a lottery would be a regressive tax, the State House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow Wyoming to join a multi-state Powerball Lottery. 

It establishes a quasi-corporation that would be tasked with making the lottery profitable.  Several lawmakers near border states say that Wyoming is losing money as residents cross state lines to buy lottery tickets. 

Wyoming House Speaker-elect Tom Lubnau says crafting a supplemental state budget will be the "overriding concern" as lawmakers open the 2013 session tomorrow

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State financial analysts are warning that Wyoming needs to brace for flat revenues for years to come, given the slumping national demand for coal and increasing natural gas production in other states.

Gov. Matt Mead presented a budget proposal to lawmakers last month calling for cutting state agency budgets by an average of 6.5 percent.

Wyoming got some good news from the latest Consensus Revenue Estimating Group report, but it won’t be enough to stop budget cuts from occurring.   CREG reports that state revenue should increase by $85 million, mainly from projected Sales and Use tax revenue. 

But Governor Matt Mead says that will not be enough to keep him from suggesting eight-percent budget cuts to the legislature.  

CREG Co-Chairman Bill Mai says the group is cautious about a downturn in the coal industry, but they remain hopeful about other energy prices.

During his state of the state message Governor Matt Mead said that Wyoming is doing well.  He said Wyoming does not have the severe budget constraints that other statesface, but that a downturn in projected revenue means that the state has to curb its spending.

“I have not recommended deep across the board cuts to agencies,” Mead said. “Instead I used a targeted approach identifying those areas where we could slow or even reduce growth.  Some cuts have been made, but we should distinguish between cuts and reducing growth.  There is a real difference.”

Top Wyoming lawmakers are directing state agencies to brace for possible budget cuts.

Republican Sen. Phil Nicholas, of Laramie, and Republican Rep. Rosie Berger, of Big Horn, are co-chairmen of the Joint Appropriations Committee. They wrote a letter telling state budget officials that agencies should be prepared for cuts ranging up to 8 percent in the coming two-year budget cycle.