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.
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.”
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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.
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.