Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon announced $500 million in additional cuts to the state's general fund budget Monday afternoon, leaving the Wyoming Legislature with a shortfall of more than a quarter of a billion dollars when it meets this winter.
Among the half-billion dollars in budget reductions in the governor's more than 2,000 page proposal is a $135 million cut to the Wyoming Department of Health and a 15% reduction in the state's higher education budget, joining double-digit reductions in spending made to every agency in state government as a result of the state's declining fossil fuel sector and the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The cuts will also include the elimination of 62 filled positions and 44 vacant positions, joining 21 layoffs and 253 vacant and unfunded positions that were eliminated across state government in a series of cuts earlier this year. Gordon said the reduction in force could have a "ripple effect" on the state's economy.
“I'm very concerned about that for every hundred (state) employees, there are about 160 private sector jobs that depend on those hundred employees state employees," Gordon said. "And so we'll see a multiplier effect of these reductions, we'll see a multiplier effect as in in how people are spending money on the main streets — going to their stores locally, eating and local restaurants, etc. coaching kids. These are challenging. These are challenging cuts for the state.”
After the cuts, the state still faces a roughly $300 million budget deficit largely driven by the cost of the state's K-12 education system, whose funding is constitutionally protected.
“A well-funded educational system is a source of pride and economic opportunity for our state. It is essential for our families and our children just as low taxes are,” Gordon said in a statement. “Our circumstances require that we evaluate all school spending and consider its importance to our state’s future. These are dollars that go into local economies too. I appreciate the Legislature’s Recalibration Committee’s hard work on this topic and look forward to their proposals.”
While state lawmakers have been making efforts to cut education spending in the midst of current recalibration efforts, some lawmakers — like House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne — have stressed that new revenues will be required to fund education at a level necessary to avoid litigation.
"I think it's time to face up to these facts," Gordon said Monday. "Without improvement to our revenue picture, these cuts will likely be permanent."
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