CREG report shows budget deficits for upcoming yearWritten by Saige Albert
Cheyenne – On Oct. 24, Gov. Matt Mead reviewed the latest Consensus Revenue Estimating Group (CREG) report in a media call, noting that the shortfall for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015-16 reached $8.1 million and jump to $156.6 million for FY 2017-18.
“In my mind, it’s raining in Wyoming,” Gov. Mead commented. “This is a time to smooth out this downturn and use additional rainy day funds.”
He further noted that, as budgets continue to look glum, Wyoming will have to make some hard choices.
“With all of the cuts made by the Wyoming Legislature, which was about $125 million, we are still short $156 million,” he commented.
Alex Keene of the Administration & Information Division explained, “Both the 2015-16 numbers and the 2017-18 numbers are of great importance.”
Fiscal year 2016 revenues came in $143.8 million short of CREG report estimates.
“As a result of the shortfall coming in, the appropriations created a shortfall,” he said. “Part of that was covered with reversions of prior appropriations that were not expended totally.”
Additional reconciliations included an agency pool loss of $4.4 million, which is counted against the cash balance of the general fund, Keene explained. Investment income was also added to the Capital Restoration Account.
“Starting July 1, the Governor and Legislative leadership made budget reductions totaling $250 million, resulting in a general fund budget reserve balance of negative $52 million,” Keene said. “When we make all of the adjustments, including the statutory reserve amount, which is five percent of the projected revenue, that traditional funds available are negative $156.6 million.”
“Just to summarize,” said Mead, “with the cuts that were made by the Legislature, we are still short roughly $156 million.”
Mead further explained that of that $156 million, $104 million is a statutorily mandated to go to savings. Statutes require that five percent of general fund projected revenues are put away in reserve.
“There’s a statutory obligation to refill the savings accounts,” Mead said, “but we believe that the number to look at is $52 million.”
“To put this into perspective, we believe that – absent filling a savings account of $104 million – the cuts the Legislature made and cuts we made put us short of where we need to be,” he continued.
Rainy day fund
In light of shortfalls, Mead said that it would be a prudent time for the state to utilize the funds in the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account (LSRA), known as the rainy day fund.
“We’re looking at the rainy day fund because we have had to make cuts that are difficult, and the full effect of these cuts hasn't been seen yet,” Mead commented. “People understand that we need to tighten our belts. But they may not understand that we make these cuts as we keep filling savings accounts.”
He continued, “We’re going to continue to sort through this shortfall, but my hope is we can work through the legislative cuts, recognizing that cuts we already made haven’t been fully felt.”
While utilizing the rainy day fund to supplement budgets, Mead also emphasized that it is important to use those funds judiciously.
“It would be ill advised to say we’re going to use all the rainy day fund in the next two to four years,” he said, noting that six years or longer is a more feasible horizon. “I think we need to be conservative. On the flip side, we can’t say we are going to make cuts of $250 million and use $104 million fill a savings account. I don’t think that’s conservative, either.”
“There is an appropriate burn rate,” Mead added. “We need to smooth out the waters now, but we don’t need – or want – to use it all.”
As Mead looks toward the future, he noted that there is some optimism for the recovery of energy prices, but relief won’t be felt in the near-term.
“We have to be conservative when using the rainy day fund to supplement our budget,” Mead said, “but we are not going to cut our way back into prosperity.”
With over 70 percent of the state’s revenues coming in the form of mineral revenues, Mead said he has seen positive signs as oil prices and natural gas prices are moving up.
“We are slowly on the way back in terms of commodity prices,” he commented, noting that oil is projected to rebound in the next 12 to 18 months. “Any money that would be used to grow the rainy day fund should be used to shore up the budget.”
“There is an appropriate amount of the rainy day fund that can be used during this time to ensure we take care of our roads, healthcare and other important services. Additional cuts to the Departments of Health and Corrections, for example, will be very difficult,” continued Mead. “My hope is that we can work closely with the Legislature to smooth out this downturn by using some of our savings – especially as those funds are growing.”
Joint Ag Committee discusses animal welfare statutesWritten by Christy Hemken
Dubois – How the state of Wyoming will handle animal welfare in statute was among the topics discussed at the April 19-20 meeting of the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Interim Committee in Dubois.
Because of the way other states have been “bombarded” with animals rights groups that have come in and written legislation on how animal welfare issues should be handled, the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) believes Wyoming should put proactive measures in place should those groups ever show up in the Cowboy State.
“The WLSB and the industry in Wyoming agree that we need to be proactive to develop something we can live with here, not only to protect animals but also animal owners and the rights of animal owners,” Wyoming State Veterinarian Jim Logan told the committee. “We need to do something in Wyoming that fits Wyoming.”
A meeting hosted by the WLSB April 1 focused on animal welfare and was attended by people involved with both livestock and companion animals, as well as representatives from the County Commissioners Association, the Wyoming Municipalities Association and some animal shelters.
“We do have some animal welfare statutes, but in my opinion they don’t go far enough to elucidate what some of the implications of animal cruelty would be,” said Logan, adding some opposition from animal rightists also indicates Wyoming’s statutes don’t go far enough. In addition, he said Wyoming’s livestock industry doesn’t feel the statutes go far enough to protect the state’s livestock interests from animal rightists.
The current language in Chapter 29 is identical to what Nebraska has, and it includes in the definition of “cruelty” the definition of “mistreat,” which includes “to knowingly and intentionally kill, maim or otherwise inflict harm upon any animal.”
Logan said WLSB members have concern over having the word “kill” in the definition.
He also said the state needs to determine how companion animal welfare will be dealt with, as far as who will govern and oversee it, whether it be the WLSB, county commissioners or municipalities.
“Everybody that spoke up at the meeting agreed companion animal welfare should remain under control of the State Vet and WLSB,” said Logan. “The Livestock Board as a whole still does have heartburn with that and we have not solved that issue.”
He said the Board is comfortable with livestock and even dogs and cats, but when getting into more rare animals or reptiles it becomes hesitant.
Representative Sue Wallis commented that she’s concerned if the WLSB does give up authority over all animals in the state, Wyoming would end up with a companion animal group that might tend toward giving animals rights they should not have – such as legal representation.
“My feeling is the best thing to do is keep that authority and oversight in the livestock industry, but perhaps with some sort of advisory body focused on companion animals,” she suggested.
Scott Zimmerman of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union indicated that if oversight of companion animals was left under the WLSB instead of creating a new agency, that would leave more money left over for everybody. “If we keep it under an umbrella agency, the funding is a lot greater,” he said.
Representative Matt Teeters said he wanted to make sure statute clearly states that animals are private property. “I’m concerned with language that would prohibit somebody from being able to kill an animal,” he said. “That can be construed in all kinds of ways and, in my opinion, negate the ability to control one’s own private property.”
“I have an old dog, and when the time comes I’m going to be the one to put her down,” said Representative Mike Gilmore. “I’m doing the right thing in my mind, and that’s my dog and I don’t want the state in any way to negate that ability. It’s a rights issue, and I can see how this can get out of control.”
“I don’t want another agency, and I don’t want a subagency,” said Senator Eli Bebout, cautioning the WLSB to move slowly. “We haven’t already heard a lot of issues with this, and if we over-legislate this we’ll have a mess.”
In the end, Committee Co-Chairman Senator Gerry Geis directed the WLSB, counties and municipalities to work together over the summer to come up with a statute that would protect state, city and county interests. It will be brought back for consideration as an interim bill in the committee’s October 4-5 meeting in Buffalo.