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Gordon “acutely aware” of proposed cuts’ impact on education, health care, and Main Street Wyoming

Governor Gordon Discusses cuts in the proposed Supplemental Budget 11/16/2020 (Wyoming PBS, YouTube)

CASPER- What was a projected $1.5 million budget shortfall in May would be reduced to $300 million if the legislature approves Governor Mark Gordon’s proposed Supplemental Budget unveiled Monday, Nov. 16.

Gordon said he is “acutely aware” that cuts to the state’s biggest agencies will “erode Wyoming’s gross domestic product,” reduce services, and impact the private sector, but added that, if the state’s revenue picture fails to improve “the cuts would likely be permanent.”

 “It is a harsh reality that at this point every cut will hurt,” Gordon said in a release Monday regarding $135 million in cuts to the Wyoming Department of Health in the proposed budget.

These cuts, coupled with a round of cuts announced this summer, amount to a general 15% reduction in budgets for the state health department, higher education, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Family Services, which together make up two-thirds of the state’s general fund.

Some agencies, including the Governor’s Office, would experience nearly 20 percent cuts, Gordon said in a release Monday. Reductions would also be made in contracts with private companies.

Gordon warned that cuts to state agencies would have a “multiplier effect” on Main Street economies like restaurants and stores, as there are 160 private sector jobs for  every 100 employees state employees.

62 filled and 44 vacant state positions would be eliminated this round, on top of the 21 jobs and 253 vacant and unfunded positions eliminated this summer.

Gordon said that Wyoming Constitutional mandate dictated the relative preservation of K-12 education, law enforcement, public safety, public defender, attorney generals.

The “targeted” cuts aim to preserve the priorities that the directors of state agencies identified a year ago, Gordon said.  In building the supplemental budget, he said he asked each agency to identify cuts that would “least impact the citizens of Wyoming.”

Health

$135 million in cuts are proposed for the Wyoming Department of Health, the state’s largest general fun supported agency. Gordon said the cuts would impact healthcare coverage for disabled and low-income residents, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, developmental preschools, and the PACE (Program for All-Inclusive Care) program aimed at allowing seniors to stay at home rather than move to a care facility.

“None of this is easy,” Gordon said in his budget overview.

Higher education:

University of Wyoming degrees in agriculture, journalism, psychology, engineering, and accounting are targeting for elimination in the supplemental budget.

Community colleges are targeting some athletics and technical programs, including Gordon’s own signature Wyoming Works program, and the Wyoming Military Department’s youth challenge program.

Gordon said tuition would rise to offset these cuts, but “cannot come close to making up the difference.”

Still $300 million short

The remaining $300 of shortfall after the proposed budget cuts is in K-12 education, Gordon said. Gordon warned that relying on the state’s estimated $1.4 billion Rainy Day Fund to offset that shortfall could grow the deficit to as much as $600 million in two years.

“This is one area where only the Legislature can act,” Gordon said.

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