CHEYENNE – Gov. Mark Gordon vetoed 19 state budget items by the Wyoming Legislature on Thursday, while allowing numerous others, including a plan to investigate the governance structure at the University of Wyoming as well as a provision that will ban health insurance plans at the University of Wyoming from being used for abortion procedures.
While most have little impact to the final budget that will take effect in 2021, Gordon’s vetoes reflected a precedent set by the first-term governor in the 2019 legislative session, where he indicated lawmakers should not attempt to “legislate through the budget.”
Several of the governor’s vetoes this year included line items he felt should have been passed as standalone bills, such as the introduction of a $5 fee to help fund a long-outdated computer system operated by the Wyoming Department of Transportation and a fee on death certificates intended to shore up an account to pay for indigent burials – both of which were seen as ways to make certain, necessary expenses self-funding.
The governor also made several vetoes tied to his personal definition of executive power, cutting amendments to the budget that put mandates on several state agencies. He also rejected language eliminating some state employee positions and a number of anticipated budget reductions, saying that decisions to cut spending – while likely – will be made with the proper consideration when the time arises.
“We know that the likely reduction in State revenues will require a corresponding reduction in expenses,” the governor wrote in his veto message. “But I believe we must be thoughtful in our decisions to reduce state spending, examining programs and services strategically instead of implementing hasty across-the-board reductions, which fail to consider any resulting ramifications. I am constrained as you are by the constitutional duty of balancing our budget.”
Most surprising, however, might have been two controversial additions to the budget bill he allowed through. One rider to the budget – an amendment backed by Casper Republican Rep. Chuck Gray to prohibit the use of the University of Wyoming’s insurance plan to pay for abortion procedures – passed without the protest of the governor, while an appropriation to fund a study of the governance structure at UW made it across Gordon’s desk unscathed.
“Great pro-life news!” Gray tweeted Thursday night. “The Governor just returned his line-item vetoes on the budget and our amendment ending the taxpayer subsidization of abortion at the University of Wyoming is not on the list. It is official — the taxpayer subsidization of abortion at UW has ended.”
While the amendment -- which lacked a dollar figure -- arguably fit the governor's definition of legislating through the budget, Gordon defended his position on the line item In a call with reporters Friday afternoon.
"There may be some questions about the practicality of that particular amendment in the budget bill, but in my belief, that was an okay thing to leave," Gordon said.
When a reporter questioned whether the decision to not veto the line item could have been to help the governor in a future primary election, Gordon brushed off the question, saying that he did not run for governor to get elected, but "to lead the state as well as I could."
"That would be my answer," he said. "I have made difficult decisions before and stood by them, and I will continue to do that."
For all the last-minute jockeying in the lead-up to a budget deal between the House and Senate last week, the spending plan ultimately signed Thursday by Gordon night was fundamentally similar to the one he had proposed to lawmakers in November: few immediate cuts, but using enough funding from the state’s savings accounts to prepare for future spending reductions two years from now.
While Gordon began the session with disappointment that the Legislature failed to introduce new revenues into the budget this session, he expressed overall satisfaction with the ultimate product as conversations shift to preparations for the 2022 budget session.
“We all, together, have challenges we’re going to need to work on as we face — as you have talked about — a very uncertain future,” Gordon told House lawmakers late Thursday night.
“Oil is down at a low price, gas is at a low price, we know the trouble coal has had, and we’ve seen a complete rout of our stock market. But I believe that the budget you’ve crafted — which was about an 8 percent decrease in spending over time — has been a remarkable budget. I thought it was balanced, and I think it was fair.”
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