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Gov. Gordon releases a tight budget with harder times expected

Snowplow drivers
American Heritage Center
Low wages are making it hard for the state to retain snowplow drivers and other essential workers.

In a press conference on Monday, Governor Mark Gordon discussed his proposed 2023-24 budgetthat would attempt to restore some of what he called the "Draconian" cuts of last year. It would bring state employee wages up to current market levels, return funding to college and health care programs and complete some of the maintenance projects that were left hanging.

Gordon said even though the fossil fuel industries are doing better than expected, it's only temporary since some of the Biden administration's policies haven't taken effect yet.

"Unexpectedly, I believe, oil prices have risen much higher than people anticipated. Coal has been holding a little bit higher. So when the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group (CREG) met to look at things they saw some serendipitous, better numbers. But I guess they are somewhat temporary in nature."

Gordon said that's not good considering that state wages are well below market trends.

"The Department of Corrections is facing staffing shortages. The new hires that we have in the Department of Corrections are easily picked off by neighboring sheriff's departments, which means we spend a lot on training, but we don't have retention," Gordon said. "We have fewer snowplow drivers to clear roads. And there are essential services for children, seniors and the disabled that are all threatened by workforce challenges."

Gordon said the budget will attempt to raise wages across the board. That includes the University of Wyoming and community colleges that made drastic cuts last year. Gordon proposes restoring $7 million to UW and $4.5 million to community colleges.

He also hopes to restore funding to many health care programs.

"These last two years have been particularly traumatic for everyone and we need to do what we can to safeguard against any further diminishment of the services," Gordon said. "In fact, what we're trying to do is to augment those services to be able to leverage them. And this is particularly true of the senior community where we want to keep people at home. We're trying to put back some of the programs that we had to drop before."

Gordon also said it's important to start putting money aside for worsening drought.

"I'm asking for $20 million to replenish the fire contingency account. Last year, we were very fortunate in not having to fight a major fire. But even today, we have a fire burning east of Scottsbluff and two in Weld County."

Gordon said it helps that the American Rescue Plan's federal funds can be used toward programs hit hard by the pandemic such as the Department of Corrections and the Department of Health. He'll release his plan for those federal funds in December.

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.

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