Wyoming Liberty Group
An early warning signal started blinking back in October 2014 to alert Wyomingites about the effect of falling minerals prices on the state budget. The blinking has now turned into a frenetic flashing. The October revenue shortfall of $4.4 million for the 2015-16 budget now sits at $222 million. As a result, legislators must not only reject new spending that would add to this deficit, they must cut the current budgets of state agencies.
- The legislature must rein in out-of-control spending demands
Wyoming school districts are funded using the School Finance Block Grant Funding model. About half of the funding for these block grants comes from the state’s School Foundation Program account, and the other half from local revenue sources. For the 2015-16 biennium, the state’s contribution to the block grant is, so far, about $1.5 billion. This means that total school district block grant funding for the biennium should total about $2.78 billion.
After lobbying for and receiving a fuel tax increase in 2013, Wyoming’s Department of Transportation (WyDot) is asking for more money in its 2015 Supplemental Budget. Instead of contemplating a rainy day fund raid as Gov. Mead has suggested or a new gas tax grab, the Joint Appropriations Committee (JAC) told WyDot to find the money by prioritizing within its existing budget, by using, for example, its 2013 fuel tax bonanza. The JAC must do the same for the other state agencies, and in particular, State Parks and Cultural Resources (SPCR), the agency that also received a cut of the gas tax grab.
Governor Mead’s supplemental budget presentation outlined the vast amount of money the state has squirrelled away in savings accounts. According to Gov. Mead, “These funds continue to grow and they return investment income to support ongoing operations.” So far so good, as saving to create a fund to generate income to live from is a time-honored form of investment.
Close the downspout
In the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group’s (CREG) October 2014 report, it showed the General Fund and Budget Reserve Account, the two main government spending accounts, would be $4.4 million short of expectations for the 2015-16 biennium.