CHEYENNE – Hundreds of people could lose their jobs, and services may be slashed across Wyoming as the result of $248 million in general fund budget cuts proposed by Gov. Matt Mead.
The cuts would be effective for the 2017-18 biennium budget, which begins July 1.
They are necessary due to massive shortfalls in revenue from mineral extraction industries on which the bulk of Wyoming’s budget is based.
These are the same cuts Mead asked department heads to find in May.
Additional cuts could come in the future if the mineral industries do not see prices improve.
Mead, who presented the cuts to the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee Tuesday morning, said the reductions aren’t easy, but the longer the state waits to account for the lost revenue, “the scale of reductions would be magnified.”
“Reductions of this magnitude are difficult, painful and have far-reaching consequences,” Mead said.
Nearly three-quarters of Wyoming’s general fund budget goes to five entities: the Department of Health, the University of Wyoming, the Department of Corrections, community colleges and the Department of Family Services.
Those entities will bear the brunt of the cuts.
Arguably the hardest-hit agency under the proposal is the Department of Health, which is looking at a roughly 9 percent, or $90 million, cut for the 2017-18 biennium.
But because federal dollars are tied to money the state spends, the cuts could also result in an additional $43.4 million in lost federal money.
That’s a total of more than $130 million in health-related spending that would be eliminated throughout Wyoming.
The reduction could result in an estimated 677 job losses in the private sector, Mead said, a figure that Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, said “horrified” her.
Department of Health Director Tom Forslund said unlike other agencies, about 90 percent of the department’s budget is filtered down to health-care providers and businesses across Wyoming, like hospitals and pharmacies.
Therefore, a loss in the department’s budget means a loss in revenue for those organizations.
“When we reduce, the reductions are felt statewide,” he said.
Other large cuts include a 7.8 percent, or $20.2 million, cut for the Wyoming Community College Commission. That reduction would include $14.4 million in cuts in state aid to colleges and lower funding for programs, including Wyoming Public Television.
The Department of Corrections is eyed for a proposed 6 percent, or $17.9 million, cut, which includes holding off on the expansion of the medium-security prison in Torrington.
The Department of Family Services would take an 8.77 percent, or $13.9 million, hit, including cuts to child support enforcement.
University of Wyoming officials, meanwhile, are planning for a $35 million reduction.
Dozens of other agencies are also facing cuts, and the governor is proposing to cut his office’s administration budget by 12 percent, or $1.2 million.
Cuts proposed are in addition to reductions some agencies have already faced during the past year.
In all, about seven current state workers may lose their jobs as a result of the latest cuts.
The state budget shortfall for the next biennium is estimated to be anywhere from $240 million to $510 million, Mead said.
Mead said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon that no new taxes are on the table yet, and he said the state needs to look at the rainy-day fund and make sure the state is spending money the best way possible before the tax conversation.
However, he also said some agencies – like the public defender’s office, which isn’t being proposed for this round of cuts – are already at the lowest funding level possible before they can no longer provide adequate services.
The Joint Appropriations Committee will meet again today to discuss the state budget.
The cuts will go into effect unless a special session of the Legislature is convened.
Mead said he is not opposed to a special session, but noted there is a cost associated with convening the full Legislature.
A complete list of proposed cuts is available online at http://ai.wyo.gov/budget-division.