SHERIDAN — Late last month, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon urged caution with the state budget — and many local agency leaders, whether their agencies receive funding from the state’s general fund or not, are planning accordingly.
Gordon said at a news conference June 27 that he has told state agency directors that revenue remains tight, and not all funding requests will get approved. With that in mind, department heads are looking at flat budgets with no increase from recent years.
“We are shooting for the same approved budget that we had in 2019. No increases whatsoever,” said Scott Taylor, district engineer for Wyoming Department of Transportation District 4. The fiscal year for WYDOT runs from Oct. 1-Oct. 1, so its budget is under construction right now.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission will vote on its 2020 budget July 20 at a statewide meeting in Rock Springs, Sheridan Region Public Information Specialist Tina Schmidt said.
“Our standard budget is going to be flat this year,” Schmidt said.
Though WYDOT and the WGFD are state departments, much of their funding comes in federal dollars, including excise and use taxes channeled through the state.
In another funding areas, the Legislature allotted $8,000,000 to the Wyoming Department of Health for distribution among Wyoming’s counties for prevention efforts in 2018. These efforts include activities to prevent the use, misuse or abuse of tobacco, alcohol and controlled substances, on an individual county level.
Sheridan County was given $385,777 based on population to spend over a two-year period on prevention in suicide prevention, underage drinking, adult binge drinking, tobacco cessation and opioids and other drugs, according to Ann Perkins, Sheridan County community prevention manager.
The funding was for a two-year period, so while Perkins said prevention efforts are funded through June 30, 2020, county leaders across the state are planning for the future.
“Our first year ended June 30, and we have funding through June 30, 2020,” Perkins said. “We don’t know what will happen in the coming years, though, and we have a planning meeting in October because we don’t know what our funding model will look like — if we will have to apply for funding starting on July 1, 2020.”
State revenue has recovered somewhat over the past year with increased oil production, but Wyoming’s natural gas and coal industries remain weak compared to a decade ago. Gordon said he wants to avoid across-the-board spending cuts like those made by his predecessor, Gov. Matt Mead, to address weak state revenue.
Wyoming’s biennial budgeting process begins during the summer of odd-numbered years, followed by a state legislative session devoted mainly to the budget in even-numbered years. Gordon took office in January and 2021-2022 will be his first complete budget cycle.
Statewide, WYDOT had a fiscal year 2019 budget of $631,587,880, and $314 million of that was made up of federal revenue and $212,108,767 was dedicated user fees. The remaining $105,148,162 was state revenue dollars, split among the WYDOT Districts including Northeast Wyoming, which includes Sheridan, Buffalo, Gillette and the surrounding region.
WYDOT’s District 4 budget is around $26 million, Taylor said.
“Our state-funded budget is only around 10 percent of our total budget, and our big projects are primarily federally-funded. The North Sheridan interchange, for example, was 90 percent federally funded,” Taylor said.
The operating budget of $26 million covers all regional maintenance, he added.
“That includes snow plowing, surfacing, drainage work, pipe work, all those safety issues,” Taylor said. “If we’re not maintaining our current assets, they’re decreasing at the same time.”
Taylor said that WYDOT is facing a $135 million deficit statewide to maintain current road conditions.
“We need $135 million just to keep our current road conditions from deteriorating,” Taylor said. “Right now is, due to the current funding that we have, that curve is going down. The quality, the condition of our highways, is going down.”
Legislative funding is used for things like Highway Patrol, aeronautics, driver’s license programs, human resources and ports of entry. State funding is allocated from the general fund, mineral severance taxes and royalties and local matching funds, according to WYDOT.
According to Schmidt, around 85 percent of Wyoming Game and Fish Department funding is from an excise tax on outdoor equipment that is collected at the federal level and remanded back to the states, or raised through hunting and fishing license fees. Game and Fish does not receive any general tax revenue or state general funds.
“The takeaway message is that primarily, we are funded with hunter and angler dollars,” Schmidt said. “This is a big point of confusion, I think, because we are a state agency. People think we get state funds, but it is kind of a user-pay system.”
Between 2018 and 2019, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission operating budget decreased 18 percent, to $73,885,591, representing a change of over $200,000 from the previous year’s budget. Even still, Wyoming Game and Fish will receive more than $17 million in federally-remanded funding to support critical state conservation and outdoor recreation projects this year, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.
“Thank you to hunters, anglers, shooters and trappers for their ongoing support for wildlife management,” Game and Fish Deputy Director John Kennedy said in an agency media release this June.
Perkins said that prevention grants to the counties include specific allocation requirements: She can, for example, spend between 16-26 percent of that money on adult binge drinking, 18-28 percent on underage alcohol use and 4-14 percent on opioid drug/prescription drug prevention. This year, she used funding for additional breathalyzers and patrols during large local events.
“You don’t see the results of prevention efforts until far down the road, but the return on investment is proven. Prevention is a much more efficient use of funding than treatment on the back end,” Perkins said.
The governor’s budget will be released in mid-November alongside a website explaining the budget. Then, in February, the Wyoming Legislature will convene to consider the governor’s budget proposal.