Wyoming governor: State pay raises top priority in budget
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — State employee raises should be Wyoming’s top priority as lawmakers get to work on a budget for the next two years, Gov. Mark Gordon said.
Attracting and keeping employees has become difficult after years of state budget cuts, Gordon and Supreme Court Chief Justice Kate Fox both told lawmakers Monday.
“From our troopers, snow plow drivers, social workers and others, Wyoming is struggling to staff the very agencies that provide the services the people of Wyoming need,” Gordon said in his annual state of the state address.
Ninety percent of Wyoming state employees are earning less now than their peers in other states were five years ago, the Republican governor said, and 30% need second jobs to make ends meet.
“We must do better. Our towns and counties can. They’re hiring away our staff. Neighboring states, they’re hiring away our staff,” Gordon said.
Gordon’s speech kicked off a monthlong legislative session focused on crafting a two-year budget that will take effect July 1. Lawmakers have drafted almost 200 bills for the session, from renaming a road for former President Donald Trump to instituting runoff primary elections, but any bills not directly related to the budget will need a two-thirds vote to be introduced.
Gordon and lawmakers have outlined a $2.8 billion budget for 2023-2024. While less than the $3 billion budget lawmakers approved two years ago, it’s more than the $2.4 billion left after Gordon cut spending in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and plummeting oil and gas prices.
After selling at recent lows in 2020, oil prices are now approaching $100 a barrel, most recently due to worries about a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine. Gas prices also have increased to pre-pandemic levels.
The oil, gas and coal industries all provide a large chunk of Wyoming’s revenue. State economists in October raised revenue projections through 2024 by almost $600 million and in January nudged up their predictions again.
Gordon in his speech described the proposed upcoming budget as well-planned, forward-thinking and frugal but positioned against the highest inflation in 40 years.
“Those of us building businesses at that time remember how devastating the cure to high inflation was to many of our farms and ranches. It crippled energy businesses, and it changed Wyoming,” Gordon said.
Fox devoted much of her state of the judiciary address to echoing Gordon’s call for higher state pay, saying the state is struggling to retain court clerks and technology workers.
“We can’t keep them because they can make more money at McDonald’s or even in the same building, working for the county,” Fox said. “We must pay our people a fair wage if the courts are to continue to perform our constitutional functions.”
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