Wyoming in 2022 was a lot like the guy who finds a long-forgotten $20 bill in a coat pocket.
For the two years prior, the state had suffered through a stretch of revenue declines brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the energy downturn. Gov. Mark Gordon announced budget cuts and layoffs. Even simple things – like some rest stops – proved too costly to afford.
But the state’s economic fortunes have enjoyed quite a turnaround this year. The primary accounts used to pay for programs and services collected nearly $330 million more than anticipated. The rosier fiscal outlook is in large part due to higher-than-expected oil, natural gas and coal prices.
The windfall raises questions: Is it best to put that extra money into savings? Spend the cash now on long-planned projects? Invest the money?
We believe the windfall represents an opportunity to position Wyoming to thrive over the long-term. The same forces that have buoyed our economy of late will inevitably suffer another downturn, resulting in less revenue to pay for government services. But if we plan wisely, we can take advantage of our good fortune now to secure a better future.
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Our state’s political strategy has often been to keep taxes low. But there is more to governing than that. What we should really be asking is: What can we do now to make tomorrow better than today?
Here are a few ideas. Let’s invest in our travel industry with a specific purpose – how do we encourage tourists to spend a few extra days here after their visit to Yellowstone or fishing trip along the North Platte? What can we do so a family that travels to Jackson stays in Kemmerer afterward to explore that community’s amazing trove of fossils?
Now is also the time to invest in forward thinking ideas within our education system so that we’re preparing our young people for the jobs that will be in demand over the coming decades. What can we do to support our community colleges and the University of Wyoming so that young people choose to stay here for their college degree?
It’s not uncommon in our state to hear the refrain: Wyoming is what America was. While we understand the very human impulse to pine for the halcyon days, it’s not possible to move forward if we’re always looking back. We encourage the Legislature to embark on the upcoming session with vision and courage. We have a real opportunity to better position Wyoming for the long term. Now is the time to take advantage of it.