In his final state of the state message, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead stressed the need to restore some budget cuts, work to diversify the economy, and look for long-term ways to fund education.
Mead says Wyoming did a good job cutting the budget to deal with a revenue shortfall, but now that the revenue picture has improved, he would like to see the legislature restore funding cuts for agencies such as the Departments of Health and Corrections.
“We have the opportunity to right-size the budget now during this session. We never want to spend too much and we haven’t, but if we spend too little that is a problem as well.”
Mead urged lawmakers to support diversifying the economy through the ENDOW program and support efforts to enhance broadband and air service. Senate President Eli Bebout says he’s a big supporter of those efforts, but Sundance Representative Tyler Lindholm is among those who oppose spending millions of dollars for air service.
Some continue to argue that Wyoming is spending a lot on education, but not seeing results. Mead says at the start of the year the publication Education Week provided its latest rankings and Wyoming scored well.
“Wyoming ranked 7th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Wyoming received an A-minus in school finance, ranking first. For K-12 achievement, Wyoming ranked 21st. Facts, not anecdotal statements about our schools, must lead the discussion.”
Mead says there is no question that the legislature needs to eventually find a long-term funding solution for education. Senate Education President Hank Coe agrees.
“I think he’s right on, this is the 800-pound gorilla in the room and our problem funding K-12 education is not going away this year. We have an ongoing problem.”
Senate Minority Leader Chris Rothfuss says they have legislation that could address around $20 million in cuts, but he says it’s time to find revenue. The Senate defeated a measure late in the day that would have diverted millions of revenue intended for savings into the state budget. A legislative committee killed a wide range of substantial tax bills last month.