Wyoming State Capitol Building (Ernie Over photo)  

(Big Horn, Wyo.) - Over the next several years, Wyoming people will see beneficial results from infrastructure invested in people, communities, education and wildlife funded in the upcoming budget, Wyoming’s Legislative Majority said Monday in a news release sent to statewide media.

Focused and conservative budgeting over FY2015-16, with relatively flat spending, means prioritizing Wyoming’s needs, said House Appropriations Chairman Steve Harshman.

Highlights include:

•             $400 million in new school construction and major maintenance for Wyoming’s K-12 facilities.  Over the next 2 years, appropriators set $300 million for new K-12 school construction to give Wyoming kids the best environment and tools to achieve success.

•             $102 million for Wyoming’s Community Colleges and the University of Wyoming in new construction and major maintenance.  Key projects are planned for Laramie County Community College, Eastern Wyoming Community College, the new Arena Auditorium, plus community college enhancements at Gillette, Riverton, Sheridan, Casper and Rock Springs.

•             So that hunters and anglers don’t have to pay for legislative mandates through fee increases, legislators budgeted an additional $2.3 million for the Game and Fish Department, covering the cost of programs such as brucellosis control, aquatic invasive species control and grizzly bear and wolf management.   Additionally the Legislature invested $3.2 million into a desired GF Department laboratory for testing and research.  In addition, $5 million was added to a permanent constitutional trust fund to provide permanent financial resources to the Game and Fish Department.

The Wyoming House of Representatives during its last session in 2013. (EO)

The Wyoming House of Representatives during its last session in 2013. (EO)

•             For local communities and all of the services provided to Wyoming people, $175 million is budgeted that includes a reserved $25 million in case the Federal government reneges on Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) payments due to Wyoming cities, towns and counties.

•             To create an economically powerful value chain for energy, manufacturing and significant job creation, the Legislature has instituted the study of an energy mega-campus designed to be a one-stop shop for commercial scale industries in Wyoming.  Modeled on the Alberta Canada Nisku Industrial Park, this project will help Wyoming move away from export reliance and into a value-added economy.  The momentum from such an energy park that includes laboratories and factories could be exponential, with thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of people needed for a permanent workforce in energy, plastics, refinement, agriculture and dynamic manufacturing.

o  “This could be a game changer,” said Harshman, “and the framework for creating such an energy mega-campus is now set in motion with modest funding to pull Wyoming’s leaders together to develop a plan and make it happen.”

•             $100 million for the creation of the School Foundation Reserve Account for the benefit of schools forever and in perpetuity.

o  Harshman said the purpose is positively leveraging the dynamics of compound interest to make this investment work for the future school children    of Wyoming.

•             Wyoming’s human capital, its public workforce was also invested in with this budget.  State workers, UW/CC and K-12 employees will receive raises.  The amount is conservative and sustainable.

•             The announced Integrated Test Center project that incentivizes real world solutions for using CO2 strategically from capture and sequestration from emissions of coal fired power plants.  Such technology on commercial scale has global benefits as well as protecting thousands of jobs in Wyoming as well as future energy revenues.  The importance of this private-public project is huge for Wyoming, legislators said.  The University of Wyoming and community colleges will be the epicenter of an advanced laboratory “bolted-on site” at a Wyoming coal fired power plant.

“Is it a conservative budget? Absolutely,” said Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau.  “Is it forward-looking and smart – yes – and still is responsible.  The Governor and the Appropriations Committee did a great job.  How exciting to have a conservative, balanced budget and do good things for the people of this great State far into the future,” Lubnau added.

“Permanent funds are now to the scale and size to produce interest income that can help off-set other revenue decreases – meaning that we are able to keep the budget controlled, flat, but still funded for the priorities of Wyoming people.   That demonstrates the vision and wisdom of the dedicated investment into those permanent funds, and this policy should continue,” Harshman said.

“The investment income generated means there can be one-time construction projects for key infrastructure benefiting Wyoming people and our state’s stronger future,” he said.

Senate President Tony Ross said, “Wyoming people can be proud that this is a fiscally sound budget and still know that we are doing what people want with smart infrastructure investment for job creation and maintaining a high quality of life throughout Wyoming communities.”

Senate Appropriations Chairman Eli Bebout cautioned any divergence from the ethic of strict budgeting, noting that revenue forecasts six years out are gloomy with energy revenue declines.  “We can’t spend more than the forecasts predict.  While we did our jobs to design a conservative and sound budget, we have to be vigilant in the future and protect the people’s bottom line.”

“Wyoming is one of the few states leading in fiscal responsibility according to several national organizations,” said Rosie Berger, House Speaker Pro Tempore.  “I am very proud of what we’ve done over the past several years to secure Wyoming’s future.  We must stay strong in continuing responsible budgeting and building substantial savings for the future.”

The 2014 Budget session of the Wyoming Legislature will convene Feb. 10th at 10 a.m. The opening act is a joint session of the Legislature and the State-of-the-State speech by Governor Matt Mead.

 – Wyoming Legislature Majority via Rep. Rosie Berger, House Speaker Pro Tempore