Senate Chambers

Senators work in the Wyoming Senate chambers on Jan. 11 at the Wyoming State Legislature in Cheyenne.

The Wyoming Legislature will have an additional $141 million in revenue to use while setting a budget for the next three years, a new report shows.

The annual document, released Tuesday by the Consensus Revenue Estimate Group, also reveals that the state earned $244 million more than expected during the fiscal year that ended in June.

Much of the additional realized and projected revenue comes from the energy sector, which Wyoming relies on for the majority of public funds, rather than consumer spending. Any comeback in mining will mean an improved budget picture for the state, which is currently hundreds of millions of dollars short in both its general fund budget and the funds that cover the cost of education in the state.

“We’re looking at a more stable situation,” said Alex Kean, co-chairman of the CREG group. “It’s a slightly more positive situation than where we were a year ago.”

Wyoming’s oil industry is responsible for most of the additional projected revenue in the improved forecast.

Kean said the revised estimates place Wyoming about where it was toward the end of the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009, but still a long way from the years immediately prior to the current bust, which began about 18 months ago.

The report revises a CREG estimate released last January, prior to the Legislature’s winter session.

The additional revenue that came in during the last fiscal year delivered some tangible benefits to the state. For example, the $56 million that the Legislature planned to spend in reserves to cover last year’s budget won’t need to be used. But given that many revenue sources are automatically distributed to specific funds, such as the Permanent Wyoming Mineral Trust Fund, lawmakers won’t necessarily be able to move the additional projected revenue to exactly where they want it.

Still, Kean suggested that the improved revenue projections bode well for the state’s economy in the near term.

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Lawmakers will have an opportunity to assess the impact of the CREG report at an appropriations committee meeting Friday in Casper. The committee decides how to allocate state funds.

Impact on education

The report’s impact on education, where the state faces a steep deficit, remains unclear. Matt Willmarth, the school finance expert for the Legislative Service Office, said he was still crunching the numbers and wasn’t yet sure what effect the report would have on the education funding shortfall.

Willmarth said the most recent numbers — calculated prior to the CREG report — showed that day-to-day school operations faced a $430 million shortfall in the coming two-year budget cycle, while the deficit for school construction is roughly $200 million.

Boyd Brown, superintendent of Campbell County School District, said that though the exact monetary impact wasn’t clear, the report offered good news. It showed that the funding crisis isn’t as significant as officials thought during the last legislative session and that lawmakers don’t need to cut more, he said.

“I don’t think that we’re at that point where we need to do that,” Brown continued. “I’m very pleased that it looked good, that we’re headed in the right direction still.”

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Education and Health Reporter

Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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