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Snapshot shows an improved economy, but downturn's fallout continues to mar outlook

Wyoming’s economy is now performing better than it was during the energy bust, but has yet to catch up with the losses of recent years, according to a snapshot of employment, energy spending and tourism numbers released Thursday by state economists.

The snapshot offers an immediate glimpse of the state’s economy, from the amount of monthly sales and use taxes paid by the mining sector, to the number of tourists visiting Wyoming parks and the weekly wages in the private sector.

Between April and September of this year, the economy improved in these key areas every month by more than 2 percent compared to the year before.

The turnaround is an unquestionable improvement from Wyoming’s rock bottom. It’s no surprise that the state’s economy fell rapidly during a downturn in its key industries: coal, oil and gas. From high notes in 2014 when oil prices were pulsing over $100 a barrel, Wyoming slid rapidly to historic lows in some areas. Its unemployment rate rose and spending fell. Once robust revenue streams subsided in the drought.

For economist Jim Robinson of the state’s Economic Analysis Division, the snapshot continues a narrative now familiar in the state – a stabilizing economy with no expected boons around the bend.

On the job front, workers in the private sector worked more hours and earned better wages in September, a trend of improvement that is heartening, said Robinson.

Mining employment was up nearly 13 percent from last year’s September, according to the report, but overall private employment was down by about 1,500, largely due to a decrease in the leisure and hospitality sector.

In recent months, the state has maintained a steady pace in the areas measured in the snapshot, with the exception of a positive jump in August thanks to a solar eclipse that drew in huge amounts of out-of-state visitors who spent their money in the Cowboy State.

Otherwise, tourism numbers at Wyoming’s national parks were down from last year.

What the economists’ snapshot does not necessarily reveal is where Wyoming’s economy is headed, Robinson said. The sales and use taxes are reflective of what the mining sector — that’s the oil, gas and coal industries among others — is now spending. The unemployment numbers and the weekly wages are similarly immediate numbers.

Recent revenue projections released by state economists, and used to build the governor’s recommended budget every year, show some positive numbers over the coming two-year budget cycle. Oil and gas prices have improved and may creep up more. Coal prices and production have also improved and should maintain those firmer numbers in the next few years.

Reduced revenue is all the same a tremendous concern for lawmakers heading into the budget session in a few months. Operations for K-12 education is facing a $430 million deficit over the next two years, according to the state’s Legislative Service Office.

For Robinson, the state economist, Wyoming has already benefited from the recent increase in mining sector and rig counts across the state. In other words, the improvement has already happened, rather than being part of an upward trend.

Year to date, Wyoming’s mining sector has paid about $26.1 million less in sales and use taxes than is the norm. By the end of the year, that gap may narrow, Robinson said. But it doesn’t make up for the shortfall of many negative months.

In some indicators, private jobs for example, there remains a dramatic difference between now and the average of years’ past. From September 2014, when private sector jobs peaked, to late 2016 there was a steady loss of about 18,800 jobs.

The economy is settling, Robinson said. Improvements one month to the next may bring Wyoming closer to the norm, not above it, he said.

“We are in that pattern now where we are waiting for the next thing to give the state a boost,” he said.

College Football
Craig Bohl expects Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen to be cleared for practice this week

LARAMIE — Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen’s chances of playing in Saturday’s game against Fresno State look positive but uncertain following the Cowboys’ weekly media day Monday.

Head coach Craig Bohl said he thinks Allen, who was injured late in the first half of Wyoming’s win at Air Force, will be cleared for practice “sometime during the course of this week,” but that his ability to play could come down to a game-time decision.

“We’re in hopes that he’ll return sometime this week,” Bohl said. “... We think we’re going to have Josh.”

The Mountain West preseason offensive player of the year, who was projected as a first-round NFL Draft selection, suffered the injury late in the first half of Wyoming’s 28-14 win Saturday. He began the second half at quarterback, but left the game in visible pain after throwing his first pass.

Allen’s mother posted on Facebook late Sunday that he had an AC joint sprain and would be having X-rays on Monday. Bohl said he did not believe any structural damage was done to Allen’s shoulder.

“There’s some soft tissue issues with it,” he said. “Obviously, when you have a quarterback (and) it’s his throwing shoulder, everybody’s going to respond differently. It’s just going to be contingent upon how fast Josh comes back to where he can have some zip on the football.

“Like I said, structurally, the information that we were given, he’s in good condition there, and it will just be a matter of time to when he’s able to come back and return. And we’re in hopes it’s sooner than later.”

Allen took multiple hits on Wyoming’s final full drive of the first half against Air Force, one on a first-down trick play and another on a third-down pass. Both fell incomplete.

“I think it was combination of the two hits, both on first and third down,” Wyoming offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Brent Vigen said. “He took different shots on both. I think at halftime, I think he felt like he could go, and then obviously he went out there and threw that first pass and just didn’t feel like he was up to par.”

Allen was not made available to media Monday, as Bohl said he was receiving medical treatment. Allen was also unavailable after the Air Force game.

Allen did appear to suffer an upper-body injury against Oregon earlier this year, but Bohl could not say whether Allen’s shoulder sprain was part of a recurring problem.

“That’s so far removed, I can’t even remember the Oregon game,” Bohl said. “I know we didn’t win, but Josh is a competitive guy. This is an important game for him. All our games are important, so he’s going to do everything he can to get ready to go.”

Allen grew up 45 minutes west of Fresno, California, in the small farm town of Firebaugh, and he was a Fresno State fan growing up. The Bulldogs did not offer Allen a scholarship out of high school or after he played a season at Reedley (California) College.

“I think between the medical staff and the doctors, I think they’ll give us and Josh the right advice,” Vigen said. “Generally speaking, if it’s something that can be played through, whatever the injury might be, we typically play them. And if it’s a situation where a guy can really further damage himself, we don’t.

“Whether a guy really wants to play or not, I think all our guys want to play no matter what the game is. Given that it is Fresno, close to where Josh grew up, I do think that’s important to him, but at the same time, his prolonged health is what’s most important to him and our team.”

The Bulldogs currently lead the West Division with a 5-1 conference record. Wyoming is also 5-1 in Mountain West play, but needs to win its final two games while Boise State loses its final two games to return to the Mountain West Football Championship Game. Saturday would be Allen’s first time playing against Fresno State.

“The fact that it is Fresno, I think he’ll be out there,” junior safety Andrew Wingard said. “But you’ve got ‘play the team that didn’t recruit you’ on this side or ‘save yourself for the NFL’ on this side. So it’s a really tough decision for him. With Fresno and him being a non-offered guy out of high school, I think he’ll find it in him to get out on the field.”

Allen nearly chose to leave for the NFL after his breakout 2016 season but decided to return for another season at Wyoming. Despite a slow start this year statistically, Allen was still being projected as a first-round selection in the upcoming NFL Draft. Allen has not yet formally announced whether he will leave for the NFL with a year of eligibility remaining.

Female sexually assaulted in UW stadium parking lot Friday night

A female was sexually assaulted in a University of Wyoming stadium parking lot on Friday night, according to an email sent to students and staff on Sunday.

The victim — whose age and relation, if any, to the university is unclear — was walking across the East Stadium parking lot adjacent to War Memorial Stadium on Friday night when she was tackled by a suspect she did not know, the email states. The suspect sexually assaulted her.

There are few other details about the attack. Chad Baldwin, the spokesman for the university, said the victim, who has chosen to remain anonymous, has not filed a formal report with law enforcement, though evidence has been collected should she decide to.

The email did not include information about where the victim was going at the time she was attacked.

Baldwin could not provide a description of the suspect.

University police became aware of the attack at around 2 a.m. Sunday morning. Baldwin said they are investigating and have attempted to get in contact with the victim, though he did not know whether they’ve had any success.

“The information we got did not come from the victim,” Baldwin said. “It was not direct information from the victim. I think the police would love to have that information.”

Baldwin could not say whether the victim was a university student.

He said that university police are the lead investigators on incidents that happen on campus and that they may ask other agencies — like the Laramie Police Department — for assistance, though he could not provide details about this specific investigation.

AP top story
Enzi, Barrasso call for Moore's withdrawal

WASHINGTON — A second woman emerged Monday to accuse Roy Moore of sexually assaulting her as a teenager in the late 1970s, this time in a locked car, further roiling the Alabama Republican's candidacy for an open Senate seat. Moore strongly denied it, even as his own party's leaders intensified their efforts to push him out of the race.

Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi of Wyoming both said Monday that Moore should withdraw from the race.

“These are disturbing and credible accusations," Barrasso said. "I believe Judge Moore should step aside immediately. If he doesn’t, it’s ultimately up to the people of Alabama to decide who they want to represent them in the U.S. Senate."

A spokesman for Enzi told the Star-Tribune, "Given the serious and disturbing accusations, Senator Enzi believes that Roy Moore should withdraw from the Senate race."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took a remarkably personal swipe at his party's candidate for a Senate seat the GOP cannot afford to lose. "I believe the women," he said, marking an intensified effort by leaders to ditch Moore before a Dec. 12 special election that has swung from an assured GOP victory to one that Democrats could conceivably swipe.

Moore abruptly called a news conference in Gallant, Alabama, after a tearful Beverly Young Nelson's detailed the new allegations to reporters in New York.

"I can tell you without hesitation this is absolutely false. I never did what she said I did. I don't even know the woman," Moore said.

He signaled he has no intention of ending his candidacy, calling the latest charges a "political maneuver" and launching a fundraising appeal to "God-fearing conservatives" to counter his abandonment by Washington Republicans.

In the latest day of jarring events, McConnell, R-Ky., and Moore essentially declared open war on each other. McConnell said the former judge should quit the race over a series of recent allegations of past improper relationships with teenage girls. No, said Moore, the Kentucky senator is the one who should get out.

"The person who should step aside is @SenateMajLdr Mitch McConnell. He has failed conservatives and must be replaced. #DrainTheSwamp," Moore wrote on Twitter.

Nelson's news conference came after that exchange and injected a new, sensational accusation in the story.

She said Moore was a regular customer at the restaurant where she worked after school in Gadsden, Alabama.

One night when she was 16, Moore offered to drive her home, she said, but instead parked behind the restaurant and touched her breasts and locked the door to keep her inside. She said he squeezed her neck while trying to push her head toward his crotch and tried to pull her shirt off.

"I thought that he was going to rape me," she said.

Moore finally stopped and as she got out of the car, he warned that no one would believe her because he was a county prosecutor, Nelson said. She said her neck was "black and blue and purple" the next morning and she immediately quit her job.

Nelson said that shortly before that, days before Christmas, she'd brought her high school yearbook to the restaurant and Moore signed it. A copy of her statement distributed at the news conference included a picture of what she said was his signature and a message saying, "To a sweeter more beautiful girl I could not say, 'Merry Christmas.'"

Nelson said she told her younger sister about the incident two years later, told her mother four years ago and told her husband before they married. She said she and her husband supported Donald Trump for president.

Last Thursday, The Washington Post reported that in 1979 when he was 32, Moore had sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl and pursued romantic relationships with three other teenage girls around the same period. The women made their allegations on the record and the Post cited two dozen other sources.

Moore has called the allegations "completely false and misleading," but in an interview last week he did not unequivocally rule out dating teenage girls when he was in his early 30s. Asked by conservative radio host Sean Hannity if that would have been usual for him, Moore said, "It would have been out of my customary behavior."

McConnell, speaking Monday at an event in Louisville, Kentucky, said Moore "should step aside" and acknowledged that a write-in effort by another candidate was possible. He said, "We'll see," when asked if the Republican alternative could be Sen. Luther Strange, whom Moore ousted in a September party primary.

But Strange told reporters late Monday "a write-in candidacy is highly unlikely."

"I made my case during the election," Strange said. "So now, it's really going to be up to the people of our state to sort this out."

Trump, who is traveling in Asia, has told people he wanted to wait to get back to Washington until he weighed in, according to a White House official who would not be named discussing private conversations. Trump is slated to return late today.

By Monday afternoon, Moore was showing no signs of folding.

He assured supporters Sunday night at a Huntsville, Alabama, gym that the Post article was "fake news" and "a desperate attempt to stop my political campaign."

He said allegations that he was involved with a minor are "untrue" and the newspaper "will be sued." The former judge also questioned why such allegations would be leveled for the first time so close to the special election in spite of his decades in public life.