Reasoned Budget Discussions Based on Facts are Important for WyomingWritten by Matt Mead
This is a tough time and as budget cuts are being implemented, people across Wyoming are being affected. There is much to discuss and to consider. I hope these thoughts will be helpful to people as they weigh in on the budget.
Wyoming’s revenues are down and the hard facts are: the decrease in mineral activity is having a sustained and substantial impact on Wyoming’s economy; there is a revenue shortfall of about $130 million in fiscal year 2016; and under today’s market conditions general fund revenues will not meet projections for the 2017-18 biennium. The potential revenue shortfall is projected between $250 million and $510 million. These shortfalls require budget reductions. Reductions of this magnitude are hard – painful – and have far-reaching consequences. There are no easy answers and no easy processes.
I have presented to the Joint Appropriations Committee (JAC) $248.5 million of reductions. It is important to understand that 72 percent of the state’s general fund standard budget resides in five agencies – the Department of Health, the University of Wyoming, the Department of Corrections, Community Colleges and the Department of Family Services. There is no way to cut $248.5 million from the budget without significant reductions to these agencies. The Department of Health reduced its budget by $90 million general fund and $43 million of federal funds. The Department of Family Services reduced their budget by $13.9 million. Community Colleges and the University of Wyoming, top-flight institutions, took $20 million and $35 million reductions, respectively, and the Department of Corrections took a $17 million reduction. The cuts to these and other agencies are difficult.
I asked the JAC to evaluate each proposed cut. Every dollar in the budget delivers a service to someone. It helps a child or a senior. It makes our state safer or more economically viable. It funds work in Worland, Rock Springs and all around the state. The benefits are real, and when we reduce the funding, the hurt is real.
This difficult discussion is harder and the hurt is deeper when those who know, or should know, the facts use tactics to anger people or to sidetrack the discussion. It is critical that news reports and opinion pieces written – especially when written by individuals who understand the budget – be accurate. Disagreement is healthy. Deception is not. It is incumbent on those who know, or should know, to lead – not mislead – the discussion. There has been much discussion about pay raises.
The facts are that since 2011, when I first took office, the Legislature has authorized two pay increases – one directed to those employees who were earning less than 91 percent of market under the Hay Plan. This resulted in a number of employees across state government, including Legislative Service Office (LSO) staff, judiciary staff and the Governor’s Office receiving raises. Next, after an acceptable performance system was put into place, the Legislature in the 2014 budget bill, authorized and funded another raise based on performance and market to be distributed equally over two years beginning with July 2014. Employees across state government, again including the Governor’s Office, LSO and judicial branch, were given raises based on both performance and the market formula. These raises were awarded in a better revenue environment.
The last raise for state employees, including those in the Governor’s Office, were authorized by the Legislature in 2014 at a time when some state employees had not received a raise in more than four years. They were directed to be implemented over two years, first in July 2014 and next in July 2015. They were calculated using an objective matrix and a capped amount provided in a legislative appropriation designated for that purpose. They were in place prior to the current fiscal crisis. They were allocated pursuant to a legislatively designed compensation system, and I believe the Legislature did good work. If we are asking fewer people to do more – and we are, and if we want talented and skilled employees – and we do, then we must pay appropriately. However, when we are in a fiscal crisis we cannot provide raises to those fortunate to have a job with competitive pay.
In 2012, I cut the Governor’s Office budget by 10 percent. In 2016, Legislative cuts combined with the actions I took to reduce the 2017-18 budget resulted in a net reduction to the statewide general fund standard budget of over 11 percent. The Governor’s Office budget was reduced by more than 16 percent. Today, the Governor’s Office has six fewer positions than when I took office. Compensation increases in the Governor’s Office are almost two-thirds less than the average increases in other agencies and branches of government.
The citizens of Wyoming should weigh in on the budget. Their input, ideas, thoughts and information are critical to decision makers. There will be agreements and disagreements on the best way forward.
In Wyoming, what we expect and what we count on is an honest exchange of ideas even when we disagree. I do not like these cuts. The Legislature does not like these cuts. When I presented them to the JAC, I told them I had done the best job I could. I encouraged them to call a special session if they believed there was a better way or better plan. They are dedicated, bright, caring public servants. We will continue to evaluate all options. It is important to hear from people across the state and that we work openly together. These are hard times particularly for people who have lost their jobs.
We will do our very best working with the Legislature and the public to make sure Wyoming weathers the storm and is prepared for better days. We look forward to public input.
Mead emphasizes local leadership at NaCO meetingWritten by Saige Albert
Jackson – The National Association of County Commissioners (NaCO) Western Interstate Region gathered in Jackson for their 2016 conference on May 25-27.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, a Jackson native, commented, “My ranching background has provided great guidance for me in terms of policy decisions that I make and as I think about what is best for our state and the western region of the U.S.”
Mead looked at the upcoming presidential election, the impact of leadership from county commissioners and steps for the future during his address in the opening general session.
“We are now in the middle of the U.S. presidential election, and I don’t know who is a Republican or a Democrat, but when we see the nature of the people running for the highest office in the land and the most important on the planet, and we see that debates are centered around body parts, who’s ugly and who’s not, and how we’re going to close down an industry – coal, it leads me to ask, can we not do better?”
Mead continued that candidates should rather be focusing on those issues that actually impact the U.S., including wildlife, healthcare challenges, opiate abuse, the strength of national parks, the importance of the forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, and more.
“My hope is that whoever is elected gets serious about the nature of the important work that needs to be done in the United States,” Mead said. “My concern is also that too often policy makers in Washington, D.C. don’t have an appreciation for what the West is really like.”
Mead drew on his experience with the U.S. attorney’s office, noting that often, his colleagues in Washington, D.C. were unaware of the unique challenges that western states face.
He cited an example where he was asked to be in Mammoth the next day during the dead of winter, and those in D.C. didn’t understand why he would be unable to make it.
“They asked, ‘How is that possible? Do you not have a train?’” he commented. “The lack of understanding and appreciation for the West is a concern, and it leads me to why my role is important. As a governor, I have a role, and I appreciate that role, but more important is the role of our county commissioners.”
With the experience of his grandfather serving as a county commissioner in Teton County, Mead said, “Granddad always told me that the real power and real opportunity in the state of Wyoming is with the county commissioners.”
“He fundamentally believed this because he believed the county commissioners were the closest to the issues, had the best opportunities for solutions and had the best connection to the communities,” Mead continued. “I, too, believe this is true.”
As a result of the partnership developed between communities, commissioners, and the state and federal government, Mead noted that county commissioners provide an important keystone in addressing challenges.
“In Wyoming, as I see our commissioners testify in Washington, D.C., the impact is great,” he said, noting that it is more meaningful for local leaders to testify than state governors. “We have to have these partnerships to provide the leadership that provides the solutions.”
Mead also highlighted the issues that face Wyomingites and citizens of the West, including the Endangered Species Act and more.
Under his leadership at the Western Governors’ Association, Mead explained that comprehensive solutions for the Endangered Species Act are being pursued, and the Association hopes to see progress as they bring recommendations to Congress.
“We want to take these changes from the Western Governors’ Association to Congress to make real changes that will not only help get us across the finish line but will also help the species recover,” he commented.
Economically diversifying the state also is a top priority for Wyoming, Mead said, noting that he is working to bring in other industries, technology, in particular, to the state.
“We need to provide opportunities to allow us to diversify and provide choices to our young people so they can stay in the state,” Mead said.
He also noted that the idea of transferring ownership of federal land to state ownership is a hot topic currently, but Mead emphasized moving forward with caution.
“If we are allowed to take back federal ground, it better be managed, and we have to be prepared for that,” he said, highlighting that the costs of land management are immense. “If we are going to do this, let’s do it right. It seems to me that the best practice is to have a pilot project and look at state management for a period of 20 years.”
“We’ll see, after that, if we’ve improved wildlife, habitat and water,” Mead said, noting that it is important to be cautious when moving forward to ensure management and the health of the landscape.
“These issues cannot be done with just the work of governors. It takes county, state and federal partners,” Mead said. “These bipartisan efforts have all the counties and states coming together to say how we can do better. This is a model that we should go forward with. It’s an opportunity, and it’s needed now more than ever to find solutions.”
NaCO Board Member and Alger County, Michigan Commissioner Jerry Doucette commented, “We, as county commissioners, are really the voice of the people, and we need to take their wishes, their needs and their desires to state and federal governments.”
Doucette added, “It is certainly a challenging time to be a county commissioner.”
Board of Agriculture looks at WSFWritten by Saige Albert
Cheyenne – During their April 13-14 meeting, the Wyoming Board of Agriculture heard from a variety of speakers on updates related to the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. Notably, the Board was updated on the Wyoming State Fair (WSF) and its progress over the last several years.
As a part of the update, contractors Community Builders, Inc. reviewed results from surveys they conducted in 2014.
“Over the last few years, we have conducted a survey of Wyoming State Fair patrons,” said Joe Coyne of Community Builders, Inc. during the April 14 meeting. “We have set a benchmark over the last three years.”
The majority of surveys were conducted on the fairgrounds using handheld devices. Based on historical figures for attendance, at least 400 surveys were required to achieve statistical accuracy in the data.
Survey responses were collected from the Saturday prior to the Wyoming State Fair during 2014, resulting in a total of 860 surveys. In 2012, 700 responses were collected, and 625 were collected in 2013.
“There was so much activity during the fair earlier this year,” Coyne said, noting that the increased response rate reflected attendance and activity.
The majority of attendees are from the general area of Converse County, often within a 50-mile radius of Douglas. Laramie and Natrona Counties are the next highly represented at the event.
“We aren’t seeing a lot of people outside of exhibitors coming from farther away,” Parker added. “WSF is a regional draw.”
“WSF attendees tend to reflect the distribution of the population of Wyoming,” said Coyle.
Of the survey respondents, only 38 percent have no involvement in agriculture.
When spending money at WSF, Coyle said, “People spend money on food.”
The majority of attendees spend money on merchandise after purchasing food.
“There are opportunities for developing new vendors,” Coyle continued, also noting that the people who attend WSF are those people who enjoy attending fairs, festivals concerts and outdoor activities.
Megan Parker, also of Community Builders, Inc., reviewed the level of satisfaction seen by WSF attendees.
“On overall event satisfaction, almost 86 percent said they were satisfied or very satisfied,” she explained. “People are happy. They enjoy the events and the activities.”
Often, dissatisfaction revolves around specific instances or events that occurred during the week.
“The highest satisfaction for events is the WSF parade,” Parker said. “People love the parade.”
While good information has been collected, Communications Builders, Inc. noted that the number of post-fair surveys was not enough to provide good statistical data.
“For our recommendations, 150 surveys post-fair isn’t enough,” said Parker. “We would recommend WSF shift to taking satisfaction surveys immediately after the event.”
A recommendation was made that WSF focus on satisfaction surveys rather than the demographics surveys.
They also recommended that WSF work to promote some of their events to a different demographic to capture the most potential.
“For example, WSF had a Christian concert last year, and people came who had never been to the fair before,” Parker said. “We can focus on finding creative ways to market to those people.”
WSF Director James Goodrich noted, “We’ve done a good job of defining who our audience is in a lot of ways, and this group has done a good job of confirming a lot of that.”
For 2015, Goodrich mentions, “We won’t be doing the full-blown survey this year. They have done an excellent job. We will probably do something like a structured suggestion box to keep lines of communication open.”
“In our promotion for 2015, there is a concerted effort to shift toward electronic media – Facebook, an online campaign and our website,” Goodrich explained. “At the same time, we haven’t dropped a lot of our traditional means.”
In looking toward the future, Goodrich looked at updates and improvements scheduled for 2015.
“There was a $100,000 request in the supplemental budget to do an update of our master plan,” Goodrich said. “There are several pieces out there, and we want to pull them together to come up with a comprehensive master plan.”
Among the updates are upgrades to several buildings.
“Most recently, we need to take an assessment on where we are,” Goodrich noted. “We have 59 structures on the fairgrounds, and they were built from the early 1900s to 2008.”
The building known as the dairy barn on the fairgrounds is in need of renovation, Goodrich emphasized. The building, which includes the Ag and Natural Resources Center and the covered commercial exhibits, could either be torn down and rebuilt or renovated.
“That building is a focal point for our fair, and it is a big project,” he said.
A variety of other buildings are also reaching the same age and will be in need of renovations soon.
“We want to make the next step with the building,” Goodrich added.
He also noted that $785,000 was made available to put concrete in as much of the two livestock buildings as possible.
“It was no surprise by the time the dollars were appropriated that there was enough to do a basic slab in one of those buildings,” he explained, noting that the project is $110,000 short of being able to put a concrete slab in only larger building.
“Construction management presented this information to the Building Commission earlier this week,” Goodrich said. “They were optimistic that contingency money would be made available, but we don’t know the outcome right now.”
Goodrich also reported that the Pathway for Water Quality and the wetlands are looking good and functioning properly.
“This isn’t a project that was going to be finished over night,” he said. “The grass, trees and demonstration plots have started to take hold, though, and it has served its purpose in downpours and heavy runoff.”
He also noted that no new trees have been planted for the Living Legacy Program because of lack of viable space.
With a constant focus on improvement, Goodrich mentioned that WSF is preparing for another great event in 2015.
Though camping was a concern at the 2014 Wyoming State Fair (WSF) with the prevalence of long-term occupants on fairgrounds, WSF Director James Goodrich notes that the concern is less this year.
“The campgrounds have been at capacity for the last several fairs,” he said. “We don’t see the impact from long-term campers this season due to the decrease in activity as a result of oil prices.”
Again this year, long-term occupants will be asked to leave the fairgrounds during the duration of the event.
In gathering information about the demographics represented at the Wyoming State Fair, Megan Parker of Community Builders, Inc. noted that the group worked to gather their data from a wide variety of venues – ranging from the Midway and show rings to the Grandstands and commercial exhibits.
“We wanted to capture everyone who was at the fair,” Parker explained.
“Over half of the people who come to fair have come for more than five years,” she said. “They claim it is a family tradition, or they come to hang out with friends.”
Seventy-one percent of attendees noted that they always attended the fair. Only 17 percent of survey respondents were first-time attendees.
“We continue to have people who haven’t been to fair who want to check it out,” Parker said. “In terms of marketing and capturing people, though, many attendees already know it is happening.”
Small businesses look at advantages of Wyo Food Freedom Act after legislative sessionWritten by Melissa Hemken
Lander – In 2015, the Wyoming Legislature passed the Wyoming Food Freedom Act, House Bill 56. The act allows for the sale and consumption of homemade foods.
Wind River Farm to Plate, an organization promoting locally grown foods and direct relationships with food producers, hosted a public meeting about the Food Freedom Act on May 21 at The Bake Shop in Lander.
Nearly 40 farmers, farmers’ market coordinators and local food advocates from Lander, Riverton and Pavillion areas attended the meeting. The main presenter on the benefits of the Wyoming Food Freedom Act was Steve Doyle, a Riverton farmer.
“What makes it so remarkable is that Wyoming had some of the most restrictive food laws in the nation,” Doyle said. “Prior to 1967, there was no state law that regulated sales between a farmer and a customer. In the last 45 years, it has gotten to the point where a farmer, if he wants to cut a leaf of lettuce to make a salad and sell it, must have a certified, inspected commercial kitchen.
“Anyone could sell me their house, car or pit bull, but in return I could not sell a homemade pickle made on my farm – unless I was inspected, certified and licensed to do so by the state. That is the way laws are in the whole country with now the exception of Wyoming.”
With the act, a producer can sell their food on their farm, ranch, farmers’ market, office or any location agreed to between the producer and the informed end consumer – a person who is the last to purchase any product, who does not resell the product and who has been informed that the product is not licensed, regulated or inspected.
In a nutshell
“Here’s what the Food Freedom Act says in a nutshell,” Doyle explained. “The purpose of this bill is to enhance the state’s agricultural economy and provide citizens access to healthy food from known sources. Here’s the thing, this law allows a farmer to add value to his produce and sell it directly to an informed end consumer.”
“In Wyoming, we are now free to turn cabbage into kraut, cucumber into pickles, chicken into chicken potpie and milk into cheese without having to have any food inspected. We now have, as a farmer, nearly the same rights as any other citizen,” he continued.
The Food Freedom Act categorizes homemade food as produce and home-processed foods that are processed without meat or wild game, except for poultry and poultry products. These can be sold as long as the producer stays under the USDA poultry exemption of less than 1,000 birds.
It also allows for the sale of raw milk and products made from raw milk.
Sale of ungraded eggs was, and remains, legal, and producers still have to meet the requirements of the Wyoming Food Rule.
Eggs must be clean and refrigerated. If desired, clean cartons in good condition may be reused if all labeling from original use is marked out and replaced with the name and address of the producer, a packaging date and denoted with “ungraded” and “keep refrigerated.”
“As farmers, we are probably ancient,” Doyle continued. “I’m the exception, a pup in agriculture. One-third of farmers nation-wide are north of 65 years of age. We have to ask ourselves, what are these guys doing driving around a tractor? They ought to be in Sun City playing shuffleboard.”
Doyle noted, “We’re counting on these old guys to keep us fat and happy. What’s going to happen in 10 years? Who is going to feed us? The young farmers? There aren’t any. They have all slid to the coasts and are serving lattes. And they couldn’t have afforded to farm in the first place.”
Doyle proposed that the silver bullet for this problem may very well be food freedom.
“It promotes new agrarians from all stripes – CSAs (community supported agriculture), organic, pastured this and raw that. These new agrarians might very well be the force that brings positive change to our communities,” he said.
“Several years ago I grew malt barley, and I sold it for $4.20 a bushel, that was the market rate that year at commodity price,” Doyle remarked. “I wondered how much beer I could brew with a bushel of barley? So I asked Google, and it said about 32 six-packs of beer. I’m selling a bushel of barley for $4.20 at the elevator and then I’m buying it back from Budweiser with some water and hops to the tune of $190 bucks.”
Doyle explained that the value-added product allows producers to see increased profits.
“That is value-added. If small farmers can capture that, they may not need 500 acres and a fleet of tractors just to make a living. All of a sudden small farms become viable businesses. It’s a game changer. The small farmer has forever been the keystone of small towns. The Wyoming Food Freedom Act is really about building our communities.”
WLSB elects new leadership, introduces new board membersWritten by Saige Albert
Casper – On April 7, the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) met to adopt several set of rules that were out for public comment and to receive updates.
In addition, during the meeting, the Board recognized the work of members Pat Cullen and Liz Philp. Both Cullen and Philp completed their terms with the WLSB and were replaced by Mark Eisele and Laurie Boner, respectively.
“Liz and Pat have played an important role on the WLSB,” said President Joe Thomas during the meeting. “We will miss them and their important contributions, but we are excited to welcome Laurie and Mark to the Board.”
New members, leaders
Replacing Liz Philp and representing the sheep industry, Laurie Boner of Glenrock was appointed to the WLSB and will serve for six years in the position.
Boner has been highly involved in the Wyoming Wool Growers Association (WWGA), taking an active role in helping WWGA to rebuild its website and the organization. She has also been an integral part of the Wyoming State Ram Sale.
Also newly appointed, Cheyenne’s Mark Eisele will also serve on the WSLB until 2021. He represents the cattle industry.
Eisele has been very involved in the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) for many years, serving in leadership for the organization. He is a WSGA past president and is passionate about the future of the agriculture industry.
During the April 7 meeting, the WLSB also elected new leadership.
Todd Heward of Shirley Basin was selected as president of the Board for the next year, and Kellen Little of Leiter will serve as vice president.
In his first WLSB meeting, Director Steve True commented, “I would like to thank the Board for seeing fit to appoint me.”
“My time thus far has been spent familiarizing myself with my duties and with the staff, and that will continue as we go on,” True said.
True also noted that he has scheduled meetings with all brand inspectors across the state to introduce himself to the agency's employees.
As the major item of business during the April 7 meeting, the WLSB adopted four sets of rules that were out for public comment. The public comment period on the four rules ended Feb. 27.
First, Chapter One Rabies Prevention and Post Exposure Management was updated to reflect the passage of over a decade.
“We tried to get clarification and updates in this rule,” Wyoming State Veterinarian Jim Logan said. “We worked closely with the Department of Health in developing these rules. Where there is rabies exposure, the Department of Health plays a huge role.”
Chapter 12 Brucella Ovis certification rules were also adopted during the meeting. Only one comment was submitted, and a change was made to reflect that both official and individual identification of rams certified under the program is necessary.
Chapter 16 Bison Designated as Wildlife rules were repealed during the meeting as well. The repeal was necessary, as the rules were both duplicative and unnecessary.
“The Wyoming Game and Fish Department and WSLB have a joint rule that does the same thing Chapter 16 did,” Logan explained. “It uses the same language and has the same intent. We don’t lose anything in repealing these rules.”
Finally, Chapter 23 Veterinary Loan Repayment rules were adopted to improve consistency between the rules and contract utilized under the program and to address questions related to areas of need.
All four rules were passed unanimously with little discussion by the board.
Logan also detailed animal health updates during the meeting, noting that there have been fewer major events in the animal health realm outside of the breaking discovery of high pathogenic avian influenza across the country.
“As a reportable disease, avian influenza has swept across the country,” Logan said. “In the last week, it has been found in Montana and South Dakota.”
Eight cases of the disease have been found in Minnesota, the most highly impacted state, and 13 others have seen the disease.
“The flock in South Dakota was a commercial turkey operation with 25,000 to 30,000 turkeys that are scheduled to be depopulated,” Logan explained. “Montana found avian influenza in a backyard bird flock.”
While he noted that the poultry industry is not significant in Wyoming, backyard flocks may be impacted.
“We have heard reports where 90 percent or more of birds in a flock die from the disease,” he explained. “In domestic poultry, this disease is lethal.”
The WLSB has worked closely with UW Extension and others to spread information about the disease. If anyone with poultry discovers sick or dead birds, they should contact UW Extension or the WSLB for more information or to report a potential incident of high pathogenic avian influenza.
“This disease is significant, and we are trying to stay ahead of it,” Logan said.
“We are still dealing with some cases of trichomoniasis (trich) which were initiated prior to the last board meeting,” Logan added. “We are dealing with the testing and quarantine on those.”
The disease was prevalent in Sweetwater and Lincoln counties again this year, and Logan mentioned, “The nature of the way some producers run their cattle, including not pulling bulls until late and not culling open heifers, means we see a lot of trich if we find one animal.”
Commingling also tends to increase the prevalence of the disease.
Logan noted that the adoption of a board order several years ago creating the Trichomoniasis Special Focus Area has been helpful in isolating the disease.
For brucellosis, Logan mentioned that the bison herd that has been in quarantine for the last several years continues to test negative. He anticipated that the herd may be released from quarantine in early 2016.
“Otherwise, we have had a fairly low-key year for animal health so far,” Logan added.
The WLSB will hold its next meeting as a teleconference in May. Look for more information in the Roundup.