Governor Matt Mead presented his budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year to the legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee Monday. The budget largely calls for reversing cuts to social services that Mead said have been in effect for long enough to hurt agencies’ ability to deliver services.
Mead wants to increase the Department of Health’s budget by $48 million. But he also rejected some of the department’s recommendations for spending reductions, like privatizing the Wyoming Retirement Center and Pioneer Home, an assisted living facility.
Senator Bruce Burns likes the privatization idea because he’s concerned the state is spending too much money on those facilities. Mead said it’s not that easy to privatize those kinds of facilities, and he wouldn’t want to take those steps without some kind of long-term planning.
“You have people, because they’ve been there a number of years, it’s hard to leave their community,” said Mead. “But more important than that, they are of frail health conditions, and putting them on a bus and transferring them on a bus and transferring them to another facility across the state of Wyoming is not a practical solution in my mind.”
In May, Department of Health Director Tom Forslund was also named Director of the Department of Family Services, and this sparked conversation about consolidating the two agencies. Mead said he’s open to the idea, so long as Forslund is in charge.
“I told him that if I knew you were going to run this combined agency, I would feel comfortable with it. But you combine two big agencies and they’re not run well, it’s an even bigger problem,” said Mead. “He rightfully pointed out to me, that’s the case with every agency—you’ve got to find the right person.”
Mead also recommended $1.7 million in federal funds for community mental health and substance abuse treatment. And with the exception of almost $38 million for ENDOW and some money for education, the governor said the budget does not use any rainy day funding.
The legislature’s four-week budget sessions begins in February.