Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Summers reporting to you from the provisional work of the Sixty-sixth Legislature. Last week was busy. On November 15-16, I participated in the meeting of the Joint Education Committee in Cheyenne. On November 17, I met via Zoom with lawmakers from Uinta, Lincoln and Teton counties to discuss redistricting. On November 18, I was a panelist at the 2021 Governor’s Business Forum in Cheyenne, and later that day I participated via Zoom in the Wildlife Taskforce meeting held in Casper.
At the Governor’s Business Forum, I was part of a discussion about state revenue. It gave an overview of where we’ve been recently in terms of state revenue, where we are now and where the numbers are leading us. This overview is summarized in the following two paragraphs.
Within days of leaving Cheyenne’s legislature in March 2020, the pandemic shut down the country, sending oil prices into negative territory, and we knew Wyoming and the nation were in trouble. By May 2020, the economy was so bad that the consensus revenue estimate group met outside its usual time frame to adjust revenue forecasts for Wyoming. This CREG report, in line with its mid-way forecast for general fund and K12 revenue during fiscal 2022, showed a decrease of $1.5 billion compared to a forecast made just five months ago. Furthermore, this $1.5 billion revenue decline was expected to result in a budget deficit of $877 million by the end of fiscal year 2022.
After improving revenue forecasts in October 2021, the governor recommended a supplementary budget for 2021 that included general budget cuts of approximately $446 million through fiscal year 2022 and the end of the current biennium. During my four years on the Joint Appropriations Committee, which spanned three two-year terms, the legislature has cut more than $900 million from the state general fund budget, so that the current general fund budget is now about $2.6 billion.
Last summer, natural gas prices, oil prices and sales tax collection rebounded significantly. The federal government has responded to the pandemic crisis by pumping money into states through the CARES Act and ARPA, and the federal government continues to pump money into the system. Based on this improved revenue and federal funds, the legislature will have approximately US$1.2 billion to allocate during the next budget session. Approximately $862 million of this total can be said to be “one-off” (from the balance sheet held under ARPA and the sharp rise in oil and natural gas prices) and nearly $312 million every two years can be considered “ongoing.”
It’s crazy how we went from a budget deficit of $877 million in May 2020 to a surplus of $1.2 billion today. Based on these new forecasts, the K12 structural deficit of $300 million per year at the end of the 2021 general cycle could shrink to a shortfall of just $75 million per year.
What should Wyoming do with $862 million in one-time state dollars and another partially restricted to $644 million in federal ARPA dollars? The Joint Education Commission (JEC) asked, “How can we improve educational opportunities in Wyoming?”
Not many of us in the legislature want to use one-time dollars to create unsustainable programs, but we can create income-generating endowments for a variety of needs. JEC will sponsor legislation during the 2022 budget session that would create scholarships for adult education and funding for community colleges. Both endowments will be designed to improve workforce development in Wyoming. Furthermore, JEC will sponsor a bill that increases the scholarship amount offered to students through the Hathaway Scholarship. The bill would also add money to the existing Hathaway Scholarship Fund. JEC Bonds only put a token amount into these giveaways, but will add to it during the 2022 budget session once we’re more confident about how much money is available.
Every 10 years, the United States federal government conducts a large population census. Each state uses the census to divide state legislators based on population changes. This process is called redistricting, and the Wyoming state legislature is currently reorganizing legislative districts based on changes in our state’s population. Sublette County experienced the second largest population decline of any county, losing 1,534 people. As of April 2020, the population was 8,728.
What that means for Sublet County is that my home area, the HD20, has to be expanded significantly. On September 3, the Joint Enterprise Committee discussed redistricting and dividing the country into regions. Sublette is merged with Uinta, Lincoln, and Teton counties to create District 10, which includes eight districts in the House of Representatives. The problem is that District 10 does not have enough residents to meet the court’s requirements regarding population disparity between counties. Courts have ruled that two circuits differ by more than 10 percent to meet the US Constitution’s “one person, one vote” mandate.
To compound this challenge, our neighbors to the south and east, Sweetwater and Carbon Counties, have experienced significant population declines.
Lawmakers in all regions have been developing maps for use by the Joint Corporate Committee to decide how to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. The preferred option for District 10 would keep Sublet County complete and add a piece of Teton County to my district, House District 20.
The challenge with this plan is that the populations of two districts are too low to meet the court’s variance criteria. Zone 10’s second option would expand HD 20 to the south and capture LaBarge and Farson, but none from Teton County. This is my preferred choice, but it is a challenge because it removes the House area from Carbon/Sweetwater County and moves it to the growing area around Cheyenne.
These options can be found at http://www.sublettewyo.com/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=401. The Cheyenne Joint Corporate Commission will meet on December 1, and I will come to help protect the interests of Sublet County.
The Wildlife Task Force met in Casper on November 18. Its mission is to examine the highest priority wildlife policy issues facing the country in allocating hunting opportunities, access to athletes, and other issues. Most of the meeting addressed preference points for the Big 5 (big sheep, mountain goats, moose, bison, and grizzly bear).
The Working Group has discussed the following proposal and is seeking public comment before its next meeting on December 3rd:
- Effective January 1, 2025, all Preference Points that individuals hold for Sheep and Moose will be converted into Bonus Points.
- From the 2025-2026 season onwards, applicants for moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and bison will earn one additional point for each year they apply, and fail to draw their first choice in their applications for the respective species.
- Individuals can also purchase a bonus point in the years they do not apply for a license.
- As of the 2025-2026 season, the draw will be random but the number of entries an individual will have in the draw for a particular type will be equal to the number of bonus points they have earned (example – 4 points = 16 entries, 10 points = 100 entries).
- Bonus points will be rolled over (or lost) as before if individuals fail to apply for two years.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission shall develop and promulgate specific rules and regulations.
I didn’t support this suggestion because I didn’t hear from any Hunters in my area in favor of moving to the bonus points system. This suggestion creates more chances and better possibilities for drawing, but it takes some uncertainty off of some hunters who have collected points.
Please send comments on this preference point proposal to members of the Wildlife Task Force at https://sites.google.com/wyo.gov/wyomingwildlifetaskforce/home/taskforce-topics.
I can be reached at [email protected] With questions or comments.