Wyoming governor: $250M in initial state cuts, more coming
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Wyoming has finalized initial state spending cuts of 10%, or $250 million, as part of efforts to address an over $1 billion budget shortfall due to the coronavirus and downturns in the coal, oil and natural gas industries, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Wednesday.
The cuts follow a freeze in state hiring and large contracts announced in April. They are still “just the tip of the iceberg,” Gordon said at a news conference. They will be followed by a second round of cuts totaling another $250 million.
“Each is agonizing but I have to say, it has taken a long time to review them and we just don’t see any other options,” said Gordon, a Republican.
The cuts will result in 274 mostly full-time state jobs eliminated this year, state Budget Director Kevin Hibbard said at the news conference.
The cuts weren’t unexpected. Gordon asked state agencies in June to propose ways to make the initial 10% in cuts and prepare for more after that.
The spending cuts announced Wednesday include:
— A $90 million Wyoming Department of Health reduction that includes phasing out a program that helps people with diminishing capacity for self-care avoid institutionalization. Funding for childhood vaccinations and early childhood development and education also will be reduced.
— Less Department of Family Services funding for local programs that provide alternatives to locking up juveniles who get in trouble. Vacant positions at the Boys School in Worland, the Girls School in Sheridan and the state office in Cheyenne won’t be filled and foster care and child-protection programs will have fewer employees.
— Department of Corrections cuts will require parole agents to supervise more offenders and scale back programs that help prison inmates return to communities upon release.
— Cuts of 10% at the University of Wyoming and the state’s seven community colleges are already being implemented by school trustees. The education cuts include elimination of Wyoming Works, a program Gordon and the Legislature established in 2019 to help adults learn new job skills.
The $500 million in planned cuts will be equivalent to the entire annual state appropriation for the University of Wyoming, Gordon said.
The state relies on revenue from coal, oil and natural gas extraction for half or more of state revenue in flush years. Coal production has fallen by one-third over the past decade and even more sharply as diminished electricity demand during the coronavirus-related economic slowdown saps demand for electricity.
The count of drilling rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas has fallen from 27 in March to just one currently, Gordon said. All in all, state revenue is down by about one-third.
“It is not likely that these trends are going to turn around rapidly or as significantly as we would like,” Gordon said. “No matter how you look at the numbers, it’s been bad news.”
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