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CODY, Wyo. — Gov. Matt Mead brought a message of cautious optimism to northern Wyoming on Thursday, saying that while times are good across the state, economic uncertainties will demand a conservative approach to spending by the Legislature this year.

Mead, who unveiled his $3.4 billion biennial budget last month, shared his take on the state’s financial condition during a meeting with elected officials from across the Bighorn Basin.

“I think the budget I’ve proposed recognizes that the state of Wyoming is in pretty good shape right now, and that we have opportunities to do things now,” Mead said. “It also recognizes, because revenues are relatively flat, that we don’t know what’s going to happen in a couple of years.”

Mead is proposing around $168 million for local governments in his current budget.

Mead said he has proposed an overall reduction in the standard budget while putting aside $400 million in savings and leaving the Legislature with roughly $87 million in additional revenue.

By putting money in savings and padding spending, Mead remains hopeful that the Legislature will support his budget proposal. He said infrastructure needs in communities across the state are great, and now is the time to address them.

“It’s only going to get worse, and as a result of getting worse, it’s going to cost more money to address,” he said. “I think it’s fiscally responsible and fiscally conservative to address infrastructure needs when you can, sooner rather than later.”

Mead also told commissioners that he has asked state agencies to prepare a number of budgets to address possible cuts of 5 percent and 8 percent in spending, based upon the recommendations of the Joint Appropriations Committee.

Mead said such large cuts to state agencies would probably result in layoffs of government employees. He hopes to avoid making such deep cuts and has asked for an alternative plan that would reduce spending by 2 percent.

“Because I don’t want to go to 5 or 8 percent, I’ve asked for a preferred alternative of a 2 percent cut,” Mead said. “When you start having cuts of 5 to 8 percent, you have to start laying people off, and that can be problematic.”

County officials appeared supportive of Mead’s budget proposal — especially its continued funding of local governments.

However, county commissioners later asked a panel of legislators from across the region to consider relaxing statutory language dictating how state money is spent at the local level. Doing so, they said, would help them do more with less by tackling immediate maintenance needs.

They also asked legislators to allow local governments to bank unspent money, in effect, saving up for costly projects that lie beyond the reach of a single year’s budget.

“If you don’t have enough money in the funding, you don’t have enough to do any big projects,” said Washakie County Commissioner Ron Harvey. “We’ve talked about banking the money, but according to the rules, we can’t do that. If we took $1 million to the bank and did that for several years, we could do a $5 million project.”

As drafted, the $168 million earmarked for local governments would be split, with 70 percent going to infrastructure needs and 30 percent going to discretionary spending at the local level.

“All of the groups feel it’s the right number,” said Cindy DeLancey, executive director of the Wyoming Association of County Commissioners. “With 70 percent going toward infrastructure and 30 percent going to direct distribution, all of us feel that’s the right split on that.”

Contact Martin Kidston at mkidston@billingsgazette.com or 307-527-7250.

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