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Guest Opinions

Letter to the Editor - Senator Tony Ross

Written by Tony Ross

To the Editor:

Wyoming is consistently ranked one of the best run states in the nation. Wyomingites are never surprised to hear this fact. The Wyoming way of life means getting required tasks done, living within our means and planning for the future. It’s how Wyoming families operate and it is the way our state operates. It was with these priorities we set the biennium budget last year, and it was through this lens we appraised the supplemental budget requests this year.

Last year we passed a strong 2015-16 biennium budget that prioritizes Wyoming needs and invests in Wyoming’s people, jobs, communities, responsible mineral development and education.  We have continued these priorities in a very modest supplemental budget.

The Joint Appropriations Committee spent over three weeks evaluating the Governor’s supplemental budget requests, weighing priorities against available funds and making the hard decisions. Striking a balance between saving, investing and spending is imperative to continuing our momentum in Wyoming.

Our revenues are closely tied to the value of minerals. Minerals have kept our taxes low and our services strong. This reliance on minerals has always made our revenues volatile and with the federal war on coal and the unpredicted drop in oil and natural gas prices, the January revenue projections show a $222 million shortfall over October predictions. Thus, it was time to tighten our belts and prioritize where we should spend and where we could save in order to close the budget gap. We kept our commitments on the previous appropriations, we were proactive in finding money, and we were practical in appropriating funds.

To meet the needs of Wyoming citizens, we prioritized funding requests and made the best use of funds available. We placed the highest priority on the citizens who are the most at risk – appropriating funds for nursing homes, DD waivers and preschools. We moved down the list and prioritized one-time expenses, infrastructure improvements and programs that had matching funds available. Finally, we prioritized funds towards different on-going programs, and placed the monies in the appropriate project and investment accounts.

Through this supplemental budget we continue to show our support and stress the importance of investing in education, infrastructure and local communities while advancing projects that will grow the state.  

Funds are set up to be paid out in three cycles. This plan helped us to keep Wyoming operating in the black, while closing the $222 million shortfall the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group (CREG) is expecting. The highest priority items will be paid as soon as the bill passes. The next set of priorities will be paid when the state realizes its capital gains on July 1, 2015. And the final set of priorities will receive funding from 2016 capital gains.

By using this unique approach in how we appropriate funding, using currently realized capital gains, we intercept funds scheduled to go into the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account (LSRA) and redirect those monies for the continuing investment and growth in Wyoming.

The budget bill will now work its way through the legislative process, but we are confident that as a Legislature we will continue to make solid fiscal decisions and live within our means. Balancing the blessings we have from mineral revenues and their volatility with the current needs of the state is of the utmost importance for the future of Wyoming.

Sincerely, 

Senator Tony Ross

Representative Steve Harshman

Co-chairmen of the Joint Appropriations Committee