CHEYENNE — During a press conference Wednesday, Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon said the state has finished going through the first round of budget cuts in which they made 10 percent cuts across the state’s agencies.
Governor Gordon said the state has lost a third of its income, and therefore, must make a total of 30 percent in budget cuts.
“Keep in mind, this is the first 10 percent and we have twenty percent to go. So this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Governor Gordon said.
The first round of cuts includes severe cuts to the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH), Wyoming Department of Corrections (WDC), Wyoming Department of Family Services, the University of Wyoming, and community colleges across the state. Those five agencies make up two-thirds of the state’s general fund budget. They will take the following cuts:
- Department of Health: $90 million
- University of Wyoming: $42 million
- Community Colleges: $25.7 million
- Department of Corrections: $23 million
- Department of Family Services: $11.9 million
The budget cuts are occurring in phases. The first phase was the halting of all new hires and major contracts. The state is currently in the second phase, which is the first round of 10 percent cuts. The third phase will be the remaining 20 percent cuts, of which the legislation will make the final 10 percent cuts.
“[These cuts] will be felt by our communities, by our citizens, but our businesses, and not just those who work in government,” Gordon said.
Governor Gordon said that 90 percent of the WDH’s budget goes to Wyoming’s communities to provide services. With only 14 percent of the department’s budget going toward staffing, cuts are having to be made to programs, according to Governor Gordon.
There will be direct impacts in services to low income residents, as well as services for senior citizens and those with developmental disabilities, Governor Gordon said.
“This means that programs that assist seniors with at-home care will no longer be funded, nor will vaccination programs for some children,” Governor Gordon said.
He said there will also be reductions in funding to early childhood development and educational programs.
“None of these have come easy nor are these being put out as some sort of political statement. These are cuts that we’ve had to make. And there are more coming. Each is agonizing,” he said.
The WDC will take cuts in programs designed to help keep those who are released from confinement and re-entering Wyoming’s communities out of prison. Governor Gordon said parole agents will be required to supervise more offenders.
As for the University of Wyoming and the community colleges, both are looking at where they can take cuts. The community colleges have already started cutting athletic programs, and are looking at cutting academic programs. Gordon said the Wyoming Works Program has been completely cut, which was put through under his administration.
Along with the 10 percent cuts, several positions have also been reduced to help balance the budget.
“To date on [phase] two, we have 274 positions we have reduced enterprise-wide,” Kevin Hibbard, Deputy Director of Wyoming’s Budget Division said.
Most of those are full-time positions but some are part-time as well. Hibbard said the state was able to facilitate vacant positions through phase 1 of the budget cut process, so the bulk of these reductions are vacant positions. However, some are RIFs.
“I do not intend to go into those details,” Hibbard said.
Governor Gordon added that they must be sensitive when releasing information regarding RIFs and layoffs, due to those experiencing them.
Governor Gordon explained that is authority in managing K-12 education is different and separate from his authority in managing funding in the executive branch. Due to the ambiguity in his authority, he is asking for help at the local levels.
He said the state is reaching out to local school districts to voluntarily look at how to implement 10 percent cuts in their respective districts.
“This is where local control comes in. They know where to make those cuts,” Gordon said.
The K-12 education funding has a $500 million shortfall. This means the cuts will be severe, which Governor Gordon said he sympathizes with.
“I served as a school board member and I know and I believe that education is absolutely vital to the success of our state,” he said.
Energy and Mineral Industries
Governor Gordon said traditionally, Wyoming has relied on the core industries in energy and minerals to pay the state’s bills. However, these industries are taking big hits.
“Roughly 10 times what we pay in taxes we get back in services that are paid for in the mineral industry. The ability of those industries to continue to carry that bill has been compromised,” Gordon said.
He said Wyoming had 27 rigs running in March, and now only has one and possibly two rigs running currently. Between March and July, over 118,000 people lost jobs in these industries, with oil being hit the hardest, losing 17 percent of the workforce. The state of these core industries has resulted in the need for massive budget cuts.
“It is not likely this trend will turn around rapidly and possibly not as significant as we’d like. So we have to take these measures,” Governor Gordon said.
To assist energy and mineral workers, Governor Gordon said he has directed the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to increase funding for reclamation and clean up efforts. His hope is that this will provide jobs.
Currently, 968 wells are under contract for plugging and clean up, with an additional 600 wells going under contract in the next month. Additionally, 40 coal methane pits will be under contract for clean up by fall and into 2021.
Additional details on the budget cuts can be found here.
To view the Governor’s full press conference, watch the video below.