On Monday, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon will release his fiscal year 2022-2023 budget for the state of Wyoming. Then, legislators will get to work, tweaking the proposal until it’s brought before the Wyoming Legislature in February.
While those involved in shaping the spreadsheets moving forward will bring their best intentions to the table, the result will likely be less than satisfying.
In 2021, Wyoming legislators passed a supplemental budget bill that included $430 million in cuts from areas such as the Department of Health, higher education and more broadly across state government. The cuts were made in large part due to the pandemic’s effects.
Since then, though, Wyoming’s revenue outlook has recovered — at least in part. When the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group released its October outlook, it highlighted an improvement in energy markets, bumping the state’s overall revenue projections by $845 million.
While that forecast provides some good news, it also highlights the state’s continuing reliance on the volatile energy sector and provides too much cover for legislators seeking to kick the can down the road even further.
In the last few weeks, the third largest utility in the U.S. announced plans to close units at two of the nation’s largest coal-fired power plants. While those facilities are in the South, the closures don’t bode well for future markets.
At the COP26 climate summit, which wrapped up Friday, coal and other fossil fuels remained central in debates, with language in global accords focused on phasing out fossil fuels altogether softening to calls for “accelerating the phaseout of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels.”
While blame for the shift in support for coal and other fossil fuels — along with its role in the world moving forward — can and will be debated for decades to come, Wyoming’s stubborn reliance on the industry to fund state government has become predictable.
No matter what the governor’s budget outlines Monday, the Wyoming Legislature seems likely to repeat past debates — and throw in distractions regarding COVID-19 mandates.
Conversations will take place around education funding. Debates will center around balancing additional revenue sources with additional cuts. Little will be done to address the big challenges the state faces — despite a few legislators’ best efforts.
In an election year, when the state’s budget seems unlikely — at least for now — to fall off a cliff, elected officials representing Wyomingites have little motivation to compromise, make bold and sometimes controversial decisions or make measurable progress in securing Wyoming’s financial future.
It’s a song and dance likely to play on repeat until drastic decisions are needed and taxpayers are left holding the bigger, costlier bag.