Gordon expresses support for programs in budget

CASPER — As the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee begins the process of taking a scalpel the state’s biennial budget this week, Gov. Mark Gordon has thrown his support behind a number of programs he considers to be priorities under his first budget as the state’s chief executive.

In a series of letters to JAC members on Tuesday, Gordon advocated for tens of millions of dollars in spending for a number of new programs he hopes will remain untouched by the JAC throughout the process, including nearly $25 million in one-time funding to support new technologies in the state’s coal industry, money to address a problem of hepatitis c in the state’s prison system, and $400,000 in ongoing spending to support a suicide prevention hotline, among other things.

The letters also include a number of policy recommendations, including loosened spending authority for the state to rapidly respond to wildfires and suggestions to help stabilize health insurance costs for state employees after a 12 percent rate increase earlier this winter.

Staffers in Gordon’s office told the Star-Tribune on Monday afternoon that few of the programs in Gordon’s letters constitute new spending, adding that many of the governor’s priorities are already accounted for in his recommended budget. Some of the letters, for example, are intended to show the governor’s support for ideas that were suggested to him, while others – like his support of a proposed $1 million investment in a coal marketing program – are already being considered by the Wyoming Legislature.

In his testimony to lawmakers, McVeigh said the governor’s letters still acknowledge an upcoming “fiscal storm” facing the state, keeping ongoing spending as flat as possible while maintaining the governor’s desire for fiscal restraint.

Each of the governor’s recommendations – which fall outside of agency budgets – will have to be voted up or down by lawmakers to be considered. However, they should not have any impact on spending levels already proposed by the governor: despite a recent report by the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group downgrading the state’s revenue prospects heading into this year’s budget process, Gordon’s budget – as proposed – is anticipated to remain flat.

“The updated CREG report didn’t force any new cuts,” policy director Renny Mackay said. “If the CREG swings, letters can really change.”

Other proposals supported by the governor include:

  • more than $3 million for the Judicial Systems Automation Fund;
  • approximately $20.7 million to give all state employees a one-time, $1,000 raise (plus benefits) over the next two years;
  • nearly $2.6 million to address a negative balance in the state’s Mineral Severance Tax Distribution Account that has gone unaddressed since 1994;
  • renewal of $105 million in direct distribution funding for cities, towns and counties;
  • $23.5 million to help pay for a number of requests in the School Capital Construction Account Budget;
  • $500,000 for beetle mitigation, part of ongoing efforts to prevent wildfires;
  • approximately $12 million to support a funding gap anticipated by the University of Wyoming’s College of Law as it constructs a new facility – the rest of which will be privately funded;
  • $6 million in transfers to support economic development initiatives, including $4 million to back the recently-passed Wyoming Works program and
  • $2 million to allow the Wyoming Business Council to implement its newly passed strategic plan.

The JAC will meet for the final time before session on Friday, with the full Legislature set to convene on Feb. 10.