Legislators allocated billions of dollars during session

By: 
Stephen Dow with The Sheridan Press, from the Wyoming News Exchange

SHERIDAN — Sheridan County legislators had money on their mind during the 2022 legislative session.

Legislators distributed more money than ever before, Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, said during a Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce lunch Monday. They not only set the budget for the next two fiscal years but also allocated American Rescue Plan Act dollars and funding for capital construction projects.

The 2023-2024 biennial budget itself is $3.2 billion — roughly $800 million less than the biennial budget from a decade ago, said Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan.

The current 2021-2022 budget began with about $2.8 billion in general fund appropriations but was slashed by more than $430 million and 324 state positions under a supplemental budget bill Gov. Mark Gordon signed into law in spring 2021.

Rep. Mark Kinner, R-Sheridan, member of the Joint Appropriations Committee, previously told The Sheridan Press the committee was choosing to be conservative when budgeting due to uncertainty about the future of the state’s oil and coal industries. Despite this, the Legislature was able to reinstate some line items cut from previous budgets when completing this year’s biennial budget, Kinskey said

“We told the agencies, ‘If we cut too deep, come back,’” Kinskey said. “And we heard that we really had cut too deep…So we put some of those cuts back  — for the nursing homes, for the mental health and substance abuse system, for foster families. And it still ended up being a flat budget.”

The Legislature also had to discuss how to spend $1.3 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars, Kinskey said.

“The guiding principle we had was we weren’t going to stand up any new programs with it,” Kinskey said. “We were just going to do one-time spending with an emphasis on infrastructure.”

Among other things, the ARPA allocations include $85 million for capital construction for health care facilities; $50 million for water and sewer projects; $50 million for local infrastructure; $50 million for Gordon to use at his discretion in another health care crisis; and $13.5 million for workforce development, Kinskey said.

The capital construction bill includes an additional $250 million in allocations, including $81.1 million for community college projects, $71 million for the Veterans’ Home of Wyoming in Buffalo and $16.5 million for military and police training facilities.

With all the construction projects being funded between the ARPA and capital construction bills, Kinskey said he was concerned the state had too much money to spend and not enough contractors to spend it.

“We’re concerned about capacity,” Kinskey said. “Do we even have contractors to spend that money? We would like to go with Wyoming contractors, but I don’t think we have enough. Out-of-state contractors aren’t going to come in because they have billions to spend in their own states. I’m afraid we’ll have government bidding against government and those contract prices will go up and up and up, and private sector projects might get crowded out. That’s my biggest concern about it. We already have affordability issues. We already have inflation issues. So I’m worried about what this money will do.”

Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan, said he was disappointed the state, despite being “awash in money” this year, did not use the opportunity to convert to a cash-based budgeting system.

“Probably all of you have to live with whatever you’ve got in your wallet,” Jennings said. “You have to live within your means. But in Wyoming, we kind of borrow against what’s coming up and what we think is going to come. And so, a cash-based budget would make us much more conservative in how we allocate our monies… We should have used this as an opportunity to go to a cash-based budget so the state is also living within its means….We have enough money that we could have looked at switching over that and I hope we do.”

Overall, local legislators said they were pleased with the budgeting decisions made by the body and hope citizens are as well.

“It was a rough session…but we made it through,” Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Parkman said. “I think you’ll be happy with the budget you have. I think the state of Wyoming is in pretty good shape, and energy prices are still high, so I think our budget will be OK for the next biennium.”

 

 

This story was posted on March 24, 2022

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