Governor Proposes ‘Forward-Looking’ $9.95 Billion Budget
Recommendations prioritize mental health funding, $20 million for property tax relief
- Published In: Politics
- Last Updated: Nov 18, 2023
Gov. Mark Gordon describes his budget proposal for the 2025-2026 biennium as “disciplined, businesslike and forward-thinking.” Legislators will begin debating it next month. (Photo by Michael Smith)
By CJ Baker
Special to the Wyoming Truth
In recent years, the State of Wyoming has received hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government and spiking mineral prices. But Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon warns that leaner times may lie ahead, encouraging lawmakers to sock away more funding and focus “on needs and not wants.”
“We now must come back to earth and take responsibility for our own future,” Gordon wrote in his biennial budget proposal on Friday.
Gordon’s recommendations include providing additional property tax relief for Wyoming homeowners, expanding mental health services, strengthening the state’s workforce and pushing back against federal overreach.
With state, federal and other funding, the governor’s budget would authorize state agencies to spend nearly $9.95 billion between July 2024 and June 2026. That’s up from the $8.87 billion he proposed two years ago for the current biennium.
If approved by lawmakers, the dollars would be used for everything from the Wyoming Medicaid program to building new dams, running the state’s prisons and helping pay teachers and professors at Wyoming’s K-12 schools, community colleges and university. The funding is spread across 76 divisions that range from $2.23 billion for the Wyoming Department of Health to $26,941 for the Athletic Training Board.
If adopted by the Legislature, Gordon’s proposal would result in 7,252 full-time, part-time and at-will contracted employees in the executive branch — up 50 positions from his 2022 recommendation. Gordon is seeking raises in July 2025 that, when University of Wyoming, community college and judicial employees are added in, would cost $42.6 million, according to his office; pay hikes approved over the past two years cost about $81.2 million annually.
Last winter, the Legislature added nearly $1.5 billion to the state’s savings accounts, which Gordon described as “an investment in our grandchildren’s quality of life.” He’s encouraging lawmakers to put another $530 million in savings for the coming biennium, and left another $48.9 million available for the Legislature to save or spend on its own priorities.
Gordon called his overall proposal “practical, balanced, conservative and prudent.”
Fighting the feds
“Misguided” federal policies have temporarily raised mineral prices and resulted in “something of a windfall” for the State of Wyoming, but Gordon said they have jeopardized the future of Wyoming’s core legacy industries, which provide much of the state’s tax revenue. He asked lawmakers to continue supporting innovative efforts that can help the state continue to provide fossil fuels for reliable and affordable energy, while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions.
“… This is no time to put our heads in the sand and ignore market and regulatory forces changing the landscape for our energy industry and the families that work in Wyoming,” Gordon wrote.
To push back against “an onslaught of federal rulemaking” from the Environmental Protection Agency and others, the governor is seeking an additional $1 million to fight court battles over natural resources. Additionally, he wants to “fortify” the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) with 11 more employees and funding for additional contractors. That can help the state hold primacy over federal regulations when possible, help industry navigate new rules and generally allow Wyoming “to control her own destiny in the current environment of federal activism,” Gordon said.
In total, the governor is asking for nearly $193 million for the DEQ — a roughly $9.5 million jump from its standard budget — with 272 employees.
“Even with these increases, our DEQ remains the leanest in staff, maintains its effectiveness and can improve permit application turnaround times,” Gordon wrote.
Reductions and investments
Gordon predicted “sticker shock” for the public and the Legislature with this year’s budget, as the state used some $330 million worth of American Rescue Plan Act funding to cover general fund expenses in this biennium. As the federal government’s “funding tsunami recedes, challenging choices reemerge,” Gordon wrote, adding that he’s made some “difficult reductions.”
For example, spokesman Michael Pearlman said the governor denied a $9.3 million request to continue funding Medicare Part D drug coverage and another to continue funding Medicaid’s Comprehensive Waiver, which provides skilled nursing, dietician services and occupational, physical and speech therapy to people with disabilities. Additionally, he said Gordon denied a $7 million request to cover more costs associated with involuntarily hospitalizing those experiencing a dangerous mental health crises.
However, the governor proposes maintaining funding for community mental health centers, boosting funding for providers who serve Wyoming youth and adding text and chat support for the state’s 988 suicide prevention hotline. He asked lawmakers to make the package a priority.
“For too long Wyoming has put off the challenging work of better addressing its mental crisis,” he wrote, adding that, “Now is the time for action.”
Gordon also emphasized a call to further expand the state’s property tax refund program, which returned $8.3 million to over 8,800 qualifying homeowners this year. He recommended $20 million of funding for the next two years and wants to work with lawmakers “on a wise and forward-looking approach to property tax programs.”
“As home-assessed valuations rise due to Wyoming’s popularity as a place to live, people confined to modest, fixed income for their wherewithal have never been in greater need of relief,” Gordon wrote.
A number of taxpayers have called for broad-based relief, but Gordon indicated he wants to target those who are “truly needy.” He said the state generally has “extremely low property taxes” that leave cities, towns and counties without enough funding to build and maintain streets, sewers and water systems.
Gordon is seeking to boost local governments with $110 million in cash and $25 million to fund clean and drinking water projects. He also joined the Legislature Joint Education Committees in recommending a $68 million “external cost adjustment” for the state’s K-12 schools in each of the next two years to cover inflation.
The proposal totals 125 pages and the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee will start combing through it all next month, kicking off with a presentation from Gordon on Dec. 12.