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BRETT FRENCH, Billings Gazette 

This view looks south into the northwestern tip of Yellowstone National Park from the Custer Gallatin National Forest, an area where bison would be free to roam if they could make it to the mountainous region.

Mead seeks $148 million in new spending in his final budget request

As the state rebounds from a mid-decade slump that resulted in steep budget cuts, Gov. Matt Mead is asking legislators to approve millions of dollars in new spending.

In a press conference Monday, the governor pitched a supplemental budget request of $148 million to state lawmakers. That represents a 1.5 percent spending increase that’s in line with the growth found in the most recent numbers from a positive October forecast produced by the Consensus Revenue Estimation Group.

According to the governor’s office, 82 percent of the recommendations outlined in the supplemental budget are for one-time expenditures, spanning areas including higher education, local governments, state employees and public infrastructure.

Even if the full amount of spending receives the Legislature’s approval, Mead said the 2019-2020 biennial budget would still remain lower than the first budget passed during his tenure, a trend he has highlighted on several occasions over the past few years.

“It is relatively rare to have a smaller budget eight years after you’ve started,” Mead acknowledged Monday.


Though the funding proposals presented by Mead were allowable primarily due to an optimistic October forecast by CREG, he urged caution, emphasizing that current revenues reflect just 56 percent of Wyoming’s revenue at peak levels – lending itself to a “conservative” set of recommendations.

Photos: Two days with Governor Matt Mead

Most of the allocations he approved – about 82 percent – consisted of one-time funding requests, while recurring funds went toward initiatives like pay increases for public employees, whom Mead noted have gone without a raise for six years. Mead also recommended approval for several million dollars of funding to the University of Wyoming and in capital improvements to the state’s community colleges.

For local governments, Mead recommended $20 million in consensus grant funding as well as $5 million in additional direct aid, on top of an additional $1.5 million to develop local resource plans.

The state’s education budget has undergone millions of dollars in cuts over the past few years. In his new budget proposal, Mead supported spending millions on capital construction for school facilities, along with an external cost adjustment for K-12 schools at just over $19 million.

However, he made clear the state needed to find a sustainable means of funding education, and that “we can’t cut our way out” of the current funding deficit.

“In recent years we have drained over $500 million from the school foundation’s rainy day account,” he said in a statement. “Through a series of other transfers and redirection of general funds, we have moved approximately $500 million or more to support the school foundation program and school construction. This practice avoids the reality of deficit spending to maintain K-12 funding and creates a dynamic in which the general needs of government compete with schools for limited state resources.”

How we got here

Monday’s recommendations are a follow-up to an appropriations bill for fiscal years 2019 and 2020 negotiated by the Legislature earlier this year. Following a budget year, agencies can make supplemental budget requests in the summer months prior to a general session of the Legislature. The governor and the state budget office then review those requests and present a supplemental budget to lawmakers. The governor’s selections were the subject of Monday’s press conference.

Supplemental budget recommendations depend on a number of factors, including the needs each agency has that weren’t covered in the most recent budget and any new information that has changed the state’s fiscal outlook, such as a positive CREG report – a twice annual update of the state’s revenues. This year’s CREG report saw a total revenue increase of 1.5 percent over projected revenues in the previous report, freeing up the $148 million in the governor’s supplemental budget this year.

In all, 15 agencies submitted 101 separate requests for additional funding under the 2019-2020 budget. The governor was on board with all but a dozen of them, a third of which came from a supplemental budget request made by the Department of Corrections. Two requests made were to restore funding for vocational training staff, which the governor rejected, citing the numerous unfilled positions currently budgeted for by the corrections department.

The largest funding request denied by the governor was $16.2 million for an addition to the Wyoming Medium Correction Institution.

What’s next?

The Joint Appropriations Committee will convene at 7 a.m. on Oct. 10 in Cheyenne to discuss the governor’s recommendations.

Those recommendations will be voted on by the full Legislature in the upcoming 40-day general session, which commences Jan. 8.

Backwards Distilling Company hopes to open satellite tasting room in Casper if city passes amendment

An amendment to Casper’s liquor ordinance that would allow distillery satellite tasting rooms in the city is up for vote Tuesday — and at least one local business is hoping it will pass.

Backwards Distilling Company, a Mills establishment that produces gin, rum, vodka and moonshine, wants to expand by opening a satellite tasting room in Casper, according to Amber Pollock, who co-owns the business with her parents and brother.

“We are still in the early stages of planning because we’re waiting to see what the city of Casper does,” she said.

Pollock said the Mills location, which has a distillery and tasting room, doesn’t bring in any foot traffic.

“People have to mean to come there,” she said. “We are trying to get more visibility.”

The Pollocks recently approached city officials with their idea, which received an enthused response. The City Council had no objections when the issue was brought up by City Attorney John Henley at a work session last month.

Henley said Monday that it was a straightforward request.

“Backwards has been established in this county and this community for a number of years and has been successful,” he said. “So when they requested the possibly of expanding the (liquor) ordinance, it seemed like that would be something the Council would want to know about and likely approve.”

A distillery satellite tasting room is similar to a bar, except the only alcohol that can be sold must be produced by the owners. Offering another type of liquor license might be advantageous to business owners, as the regular bar licenses are competitive and likely more costly, Henley said.

The city attorney said this potential new option would be a better fit for entrepreneurs who are only interested in expanding their brand and products.

Although other distilleries may be interested, Henley said Backwards Distilling Company is the only business that has approached city officials about the idea.

A satellite permit would only allow the holder to open one satellite location within Wyoming separate from its manufacturing site. The permit also allows holders to give out free samples of up to 1 1/2 ounces, up to 3 ounces per customer per day, according to a memo from Henley to City Manager Carter Napier.

The permits would apply to those who produce distilled spirits, not wine or beer.

Pollock said she hopes to have the opportunity to share the company’s alcohol with a wider base of customers. Backwards sells made-from-scratch products, she said, and uses mostly locally grown ingredients, like sugar from Wyoming’s beets.

“We appreciate the Mills community and the Casper community and all the folks who have supported us for far,” she said. “We hope that the City Council will approve this concept so we can hopefully get our brand in front of more people and continue to grow as a company.”

Community members will have the opportunity this week to weigh in on whether the city should approve the amendment. A public hearing will be held at the City Council’s Tuesday meeting prior to the vote.

The measure must pass three rounds of voting to take effect.

At Capitol, Bush saluted as 'gentle soul'

WASHINGTON — The nation's capital embraced George H.W. Bush in death Monday with solemn ceremony and high tributes to his service and decency, as the remains of the 41st president took their place in the Capitol rotunda for three days of mourning and praise by the political elite and everyday citizens alike.

With Bush's casket atop the Lincoln Catafalque, first used for Abraham Lincoln's 1865 funeral, dignitaries came forward to honor the Texan whose efforts for his country extended three quarters of a century from World War II through his final years as an advocate for volunteerism and relief for people displaced by natural disaster.

President from 1989 to 1993, Bush died Friday at age 94.

In an invocation opening Monday evening's ceremony, the U.S. House chaplain, the Rev. Patrick J Conroy, praised Bush's commitment to public service, from Navy pilot to congressman, U.N. ambassador, envoy to China and then CIA director before being elected vice president and then president.

"Here lies a great man," said Rep. Paul Ryan, the House speaker, and "a gentle soul. ... His legacy is grace perfected."

Vice President Mike Pence and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell also spoke. President Donald Trump did not attend, but he and first lady Melania Trump came to the Capitol later Monday to pay tribute. They stood in front of the casket with their eyes closed for a few moments, before Trump saluted the casket.

Political combatants set aside their fights to honor a Republican who led in a less toxic era and at times found commonality with Democrats despite sharp policy disagreements. Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi, past and incoming House speaker, exchanged a warm hug with George W. Bush and came away dabbing her face. Bush himself seemed to be holding back tears.

Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, placed wreaths in the short ceremony before the rotunda was to be opened to the public. It was to remain open overnight.

Sent off from Texas with a 21-gun salute, Bush's casket was carried to Joint Base Andrews outside the capital city aboard an aircraft that often serves as Air Force One and designated "Special Air Mission 41" in honor of Bush's place on the chronological list of presidents. His eldest son, former President George W. Bush, and others from the family traveled on the flight from Houston.

Cannon fire roared again outside the Capitol as the sun sank and the younger President Bush stood with his hand over his heart, watching the casket's procession up the steps.

Bush was remembered just feet away from what he called "Democracy's front porch," the west-facing steps of the Capitol where he was sworn in as president.

He will lie in state in the Capitol for public visitation through Wednesday. An invitation-only funeral service, which the Trumps will attend, is set for Wednesday at Washington National Cathedral.

Although Bush's funeral services are suffused with the flourishes accorded presidents, by his choice they will not include a formal funeral procession through downtown Washington.

On Sunday, students, staff and visitors had flocked to Bush's presidential library on the campus of Texas A&M University, with thousands of mourners paying their respects at a weekend candlelight vigil at a nearby pond and others contributing to growing flower memorials at Bush statues at both the library and a park in downtown Houston.

"I think he was one of the kindest, most generous men," said Marge Frazier, who visited the downtown statue Sunday while showing friends from California around.

After services in Washington, Bush will be returned to Houston to lie in repose at St. Martin's Episcopal Church before burial Thursday at his family plot on the library grounds. His final resting place will be alongside Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years who died in April, and Robin Bush, the daughter they lost to leukemia in 1953 at age 3.

Trump has ordered the federal government closed Wednesday for a national day of mourning. Flags on public buildings are flying at half-staff for 30 days.

Bush's passing puts him back in the Washington spotlight after more than two decades living the relatively low-key life of a former president. His death also reduces membership in the ex-presidents' club to four: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

One of Bush's major achievements was assembling the international military coalition that liberated the tiny, oil-rich nation of Kuwait from invading neighbor Iraq in 1991. The war lasted just 100 hours. He also presided over the end of the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union.

He was denied a second term by Arkansas Gov. Clinton, who would later become a close friend. The pair worked together to raise tens of millions of dollars for victims of a 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and of Hurricane Katrina, which swamped New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005.

"Who would have thought that I would be working with Bill Clinton of all people?" he joked in 2005.

In a recent essay, Clinton declared of Bush: "I just loved him."