SHERIDAN — Wyoming state legislators are facing an uphill battle heading into the 2016 budget session, which begins Feb. 8.
The Consensus Revenue Estimating Group in October released a report detailing a grim outlook for Wyoming revenue sources — and a local senator believes it’s only going to get worse.
“I’m not a ‘doom and gloom’ guy, but there is going to be more bad news,” said Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan.
According to the report, revenue is declining due to decreasing mineral prices. Wyoming depends largely on severance taxes from the oil and gas industry along with coal mining.
The next CREG report will be released later this month, and revenue from minerals in Wyoming will only continue to decline, Kinskey said.
The CREG report forecasted a revenue shortfall of $617 million through June 30, 2018. That’s equivalent to a 25 percent decline.
In order to combat the revenue shortfall, Kinskey said, Wyoming needs to tighten its belt.
“We should spend according to what we need to spend,” Kinskey said, adding that Wyoming has adopted a fiscal policy of spending more money when more revenue flows into the state, which isn’t something that works in a boom and bust state.
Kinskey said one area to cut spending is the Wyoming capitol renovation project. Initially, state legislators approved only upgrading areas that presented a safety hazard such as aging electrical systems. However, legislators later approved spending $259 million to bring the capitol back to its original, historic condition.
“Once that decision was made, the project got expensive real fast,” Kinskey said.
Kinskey said he believes that aside from continuing work on areas of the capitol that present a safety hazard, the capitol renovation should be put on hold and the remaining funds be diverted to more critical areas such as education and caring for the state’s senior citizens.
“Dozens of schools need to be replaced,” Kinskey said.
Some of Kinskey’s legislative colleagues have proposed increasing taxes, which Kinskey said he strongly opposes. Others have proposed dipping into the state’s Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account, also known as the “rainy-day” fund.
Gov. Matt Mead also supports dipping into the fund.
Kinskey said if Mead presents a plan that cuts spending by 25 percent during the next five to six years, he would support using money from the fund as a transition. Otherwise, he opposes spending the state’s savings.
Interim committee meetings
Members of the Joint Appropriations Committee have started hearing budget requests from various department heads.
State Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, serves on the committee. Burns said the committee has not made any decisions on departments’ budgets because not every department has addressed the committee. The interim JAC will hear from the remainder of Wyoming’s department heads in the coming weeks, after which JAC members will decide how much funding each program receives.
Kinskey, who serves on the Senate Revenue Committee, declined to name a specific department that should have its budget cut. Kinskey said one way to reduce spending is skimming small amounts off the top for each department. He also said it is the governor’s job to propose spending cuts in specific departments.
“The legislative body is a poor vehicle for making program-by-program cuts. It’s the governor’s job to set the tone for every level of government,” Kinskey said.
“That’s the exact problem with representative democracy,” he added. “The executive branch, you hope, is in control of picking out cuts. It’s work that needs to be done by dozens and dozens of executives, not legislators.”