Lawmakers want details on state budget cuts

CHEYENNE — More than a month after Gov. Mark Gordon announced the state was cutting $250 million from its upcoming biennial budget, the number of positions and programs that will be cut remains unclear – but that should soon change.

Members of the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee hoped to receive some details on the 10% cut to Wyoming’s state agencies during their meeting Wednesday, but state officials weren’t quite ready to reveal all of the details.

State Budget Department Director Kevin Hibbard told lawmakers his office was working to release the details of the cuts to lawmakers and the public “as soon as possible.”

“I would say that we are in the 99th percentile, (and) we’re trying to wrap up the last 1% and get that out,” Hibbard said. “I’d like to get it done by next week, but if there’s something that presents an issue with this, then we might be later than that.”

But lawmakers on the Joint Appropriations Committee, which oversees the state budget, were frustrated by the pace of the process. With the state facing a projected $1.5 billion total revenue shortfall for its 2021-22 budget, several members said they couldn’t know how to proceed until they have more information on the cuts.

“We’re somewhat on our knees, pleading and saying the sooner that we can get ... what that does to our general fund budget and others, (it) really puts us in a better position to voice our position and the need to say, ‘No, we’re just going to wait and cut our way out of it’ or to say, ‘No, we need to start looking at some of these tax exemptions or other ways to generate revenue,” Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, told Hibbard.

Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, largely agreed, arguing the public won’t fully appreciate the scale of the state’s financial issues until the specifics are revealed.

“Until we can see some of this stuff, it’s not real,” Sommers added.

It remains to be seen which specific programs and positions will be cut, though the governor’s announcement of the budget reductions in July offered a few tidbits. During a meeting with lawmakers last month, Gordon mentioned fewer services for elder care, mental health and Medicaid as future realities.

Additionally, while most agencies’ budgets will be reduced by 10%, the state’s largest agency, the Department of Health, will take on an initial $90 million cut, or 9% of its budget.

Beyond the $250 million in initial cuts, Gordon has also asked each department to propose an additional 10% reduction to be considered later this year. At that point, state officials hope to have a better idea of the state’s economic outlook.

“We will work those proposals in concert with what we see in revenue between now and October,” Hibbard said Wednesday.

With the budget cuts expected to be revealed soon, lawmakers also mentioned the possibility of another special session being held this fall to navigate the budget crisis. Regardless of whether that happens, members of the Joint Appropriation Committee were eager to dig into the numbers.

“I was hoping we’d have some numbers now so we could go through it as a committee and see where the cuts are ... and provide at least some support for what the governor is doing, or maybe some concerns,” said committee co-chair Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton. “But if we’re not going to have that until maybe next week, I guess we could just send it out and have the committee voice their concerns with us individually or collectively, and we let the governor know.”

“I think to wait till October is too late,” he added.