CHEYENNE, Wyo. – The Wyoming Senate spent the majority of its day on Monday, Feb. 17 discussing the massive budget bill, which spans 141 pages.
The senators only covered about a quarter of the sections in the bill before pivoting to discussing bills on the general file. SF 1 covers the biennium budget, which begins July 1, 2020 and ends June 30, 2022.
Sen. Eli Bebout introduced the bill during the morning floor session. Sen. Larry Hicks explained during his time on the floor that the Joint Appropriations Committee had a number of challenges to wade through during consideration of the bill, but one major cost stood out across all state agencies.
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“We had over $160 million in IT requests alone just for the biennium,” he told the Senate. “When you go through the budget, you’ll see that many of these IT budgets were cut by 50%. We need to get a handle on these costs.”
Gov. Mark Gordon submitted recommendations for the budget back in November, which he mentioned during his State of the State on Monday, Feb. 10. In that speech, Gordon told the state legislators, general audience members and anyone listening to or watching the livestream that his budget was charting a “fiscally stable path.” His proposed budget was intended to keep ongoing spending flat, allowing the state to think about services it can provide and what can be cut.
In his opening letter from the recommendations, Gordon told the legislators that technology was taking over as the source that’s powering the world rather than Wyoming’s favored source: coal, natural gas, oil and other minerals. He noted that he asked state agencies to simplify their budgets, that he believed there should be more focus on state tourism and that he supported investing in the state’s healthcare system.
Gordon has touted transparency regarding the state budget and launched a website, Wyoming Sense, in November to help with that. The website breaks down the budget, showing the percentage breakdown of Gordon’s suggestions.
For example, it shows that Gordon recommended spending $991,156,477 in state funds on the Department of Health, just over one-third of the budget. State general funds come from severance tax revenue, federal mineral royalties, sales and use tax and investment income.
As for federal funds, Gordon recommended spending 48% on the DOH, just over $855,000. Federal funds come from grants to state and local governments. Funding usually goes toward healthcare, social services, housing, clean water and much more.
According to the website, Gordon “believes a true biennial budgeting process is more streamlined and cost-effective. Additionally, budgeting for two years allows for better long-term planning.”
A number of sections, such as for the Secretary of State’s office, the state auditor’s office and the Wyoming Pipeline Authority, were approved by the Senate without much, if any, discussion or questioning.
Others, such as the Department of Transportation section, required more explanation. The DOT requested more than $70 million for its budget increase, and Gordon mostly backed this idea. The Senate slashed this price tag, allotting for $242 million for the department.
“We went through and cut the IT requests by 50% for the Department of Transportation,” Sen. Wyatt Agar explained to the Senate. “However, it funds the new driver’s license program, which comes out of highway funds. We also allowed for the Wyoming Highway Patrol to hire on new positions.”
The Senate closed the discussion on Monday evening following a long back-and-forth about section 48 of the bill, which focused on the Department of Health. In the bill, almost $2 billion is allotted for the department, with the general and federal funds falling just a few thousand dollars under Gordon’s recommendation.