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Lack of legislative progress on revenue disappoints governor

CHEYENNE — Gov. Mark Gordon said even though he thought it was a successful legislative session, he was frustrated with the lack of progress made this year in creating viable revenue streams for priorities like education.

During a Thursday press conference, Gordon said the failure of several bills meant to fix part of the state’s $100 million structural deficit in education funding was a major disappointment from the 2019 general session. He said it was imperative for Wyoming to find ways to fund things like career and technical education programs, and protect the state’s economy from the fluctuations of the energy market.

“We still have some work to do on our budget gap. We still have some work we need to do to make sure our funding for (CTE) initiatives is more sustainable going forward,” Gordon said. “I was a little disappointed we saw some pretty mature conversation all the way through the session, and then at the end it all kind of rolled back, and we ended up in the same place.”

The Legislature started the session with several bills to increase revenues separate from the mineral industry, including a statewide lodging tax and a corporate income tax for companies with 100 or more shareholders. Those two bills, along with a proposed mill levy increase for education and an increase in the state’s tobacco tax, died before making it to Gordon’s desk.

Gordon said he has asked ENDOW, the state’s economic diversification group, to study the tax structures of states in the Western region and those run by Republican majorities. The goal is to build models to allow Wyoming to examine its own revenue streams, and start to look at how changes to the state’s tax code could affect the budget.

“I’m not asking them for a recommendation (on new taxes),” Gordon said.

“I want to be able to run our current revenue streams through those tax structures, so that the people of Wyoming understand what happens if we reduce the revenue we get off coal, as we’re seeing now. What happens if we see volatility in oil and gas pricing, or with other minerals?

“That way, I think the people of Wyoming will be well informed about what these struggles will mean for the future.”

The Legislature’s Management Council met Friday to decide on the final list of interim topics for committees to work on between now and the 2020 budget session. Gordon said there are several he wants to see progress on, including the state’s role in federal environmental regulation.

“One of the ones I’m very excited about is if the state can take more of a role in helping to guide the (National Environmental Policy Act) process, both at the local level and the state level,” Gordon said. “We’ve been in conversation with the Department of Interior to see if there are any opportunities that we can take more of a leadership role.”

Gordon said another area he hoped would be dealt with in the interim is investigating ways to ensure the state’s funding for endowments, like the one that funds the Hathaway Scholarship, is secure for the future. He also wants to see the Legislature find a way to help fund an endowment to support career and technical education in the state.

After vetoes, budget will go smoothly

While the governor was happy with the vast majority of the work the Legislature sent to his desk this session, he did use several line-item vetoes in the supplemental budget to eliminate what he saw as legislative overreach. The vetoes were meant to send a clear single that Gordon would be protective of the constitutionally mandated roles of Wyoming’s state government.

While Gordon and the Legislature disagreed about lawmakers using footnotes to direct executive action, the governor said the two sides were in a good place as the executive branch works to put together a budget proposal.

“I think I made myself pretty clear about my views on the constitutionality of some of that,” Gordon said. “I have a good working relationship with the Legislature. They’ve certainly been very good to work with, and good to us. I’m looking forward to having a clear budget (process) going forward.

“I intend to continue my position that our constitution is clear on legislating from the budget.”