Final budget bill adds $17.4 million in UW projects

By Daniel Bendtsen

Laramie Boomerang

Via Wyoming News Exchange

LARAMIE — The final supplemental budget bill approved by the state Legislature this week includes $17.4 million in new funding for the University of Wyoming. The final version has $2 million more than the original drafted budget.

Some of the funding, however, requires reductions in UW’s 2021-2022 general fund budget.

One of the major changes from the original budget bill is $3 million that’s been added in new funding for UW’s Tier 1 engineering initiative.

That additional money came almost entirely at the direction of Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, who co-chairs the Joint Appropriation Committee.

More funding for UW’s engineering efforts was not requested by the university nor the governor.

Bebout, a UW engineering graduate himself, expressed concerns that there are not enough financial resources to bring UW into Tier 1 status.

UW’s new $105 million engineering building is scheduled to open this spring. Some faculty began moving into the building last week.

The $3 million for the Tier 1 engineering initiative will require UW to secure matching funds.

The final bill does include $1 million for the Science Initiative — half of what UW asked for.

During JAC hearings, UW President Laurie Nichols stressed that funding for the Science Initiative was more pertinent to have programming ready when the Science Initiative building opens. She also suggested Bebout’s concerns about the Tier 1 engineering initiative were overblown.

Gov. Mark Gordon has line-item veto power over the budget bill.

Just as it was originally drafted, the final bill appropriates $2.7 million for salary increases at UW.

Unlike the original bill, the final version will require UW to provide a report by October that explains, by position, how UW will spend that $2.7 million.

The original budget bill included $2.5 million for “excellence in agricultural education.” The final budget bill reduces that appropriation down to $500,000, and requires the funding to be spent on rangeland management program. UW had requested $5 million for the College of Agriculture in anticipation of hiring a new dean this year, but gave no indication to JAC that rangeland management was a priority program.

The final bill also cuts $500,000 that was earmarked for a practice rodeo arena and animal stalls. Those funds had been included in the original bill at the request of Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan.

The final version also cuts $1 million that had been allocated for a new water well at the Jacoby Golf Course.

The bill also withholds $250,000 from UW’s block grant unless UW hires, by March 30, 2020, a director for its biosafety level three laboratory and brings staffing for the lab up to 90 percent of the “optimal staffing levels.”

In the fall, UW had originally asked for about $19.4 million in supplemental budget funding.

Former Gov. Matt Mead recommended the Legislature fund nearly all of that request.

Entering the supplemental budget discussions, UW made as its top priority a request for $10 million in one-time state funding to create the President’s Endowed Scholarship endowment.

Administrators hope the scholarships will encourage more Wyoming high school graduates and community college transfer students to stay in Wyoming for their education.

However, the final budget bill offers just $2.5 million for that program, and requires UW to submit a report on the new scholarship program by Dec. 1.

That report requires UW to include “information on the number of students who receive the scholarship, from which communities the students entered the university, the degree programs of the students and other financial resources and aid available to the students that assisted the students in meeting their financial obligations to the university.”

Shortly after taking office, Gordon requested the Legislature appropriate $10 million to the School of Energy Resources “for the purpose of constructing a 5-megawatt equivalent pilot project utilizing advanced coal-based generation technology that captures at least 75 percent of carbon emissions.”

JAC reduced the proposed funding to $5 million, with a requirement for matching grant funding to be sought.

The Legislature also included $4 million in additional funding for the School of Energy Resources to engage in more research and development.

The school’s dean, Mark Northam, told legislators that funds would help secure investments from major players like Saudi Aramco.

Northram and Nichols made a week-long trip this month to Saudi Arabia, where they asked for $31 million in programmatic funding from the Arab Kingdom and other companies.

“All indicators say there’s some real interest,” Nichols said during a Wednesday meeting with the board of trustees.