By Holly Kennedy, WyFB

On January 11th at the State of the State Address Governor Matt Mead welcomed new and returning legislators, stating “there is a new energy that comes with adding new people to the mix… as always I look forward to working with this body on the important work ahead.”

The Governor reported, “Though we face challenging times, Wyoming remains strong.” He attributes this to preparations by present and past leadership for times of lower revenue. He reported that there is currently $1.59 billion in the LSRA, also known as the Rainy Day Fund, and $7.4 Billion in the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund. The Governor pushed for additional guidelines for when Rainy Day Funds should be accessed.

The Governor brought to light several rankings the State has achieved this year in spite of facing leaner times. These included: maintaining our AAA credit rating from Standard & Poors; and being named: the best State to start a business, make a living, and retire in; most business friendly tax climate; 3rd for new business startup activity; and 6th best state for business.

According to Mead, “We are now and shall always be a proud Ag State.” He credited agriculture for not only putting food on the table, but also providing open spaces.

He addressed several of his initiatives including:

Water Initiative Specifically, he spoke on its 10 in 10 project; a proposal to build 10 reservoirs in 10 years. This year’s omnibus bill contains four of these projects: the Big Sandy reservoir enlargement, Middle Piney Reservoir, Alkali Creek Reservoir; Lovett reservoir expansion. These projects will add over 31,000 acre feet of storage.

ENDOW Initiative (Economically Needed Diversification Options for Wyoming), a long term planning effort for economic diversification. He has asked for $2.5 million for this initiative in his supplemental budget proposal.

Shooting Ranges & Competitions Initiative New this year, the Governor has proposed this initiative to celebrate Wyoming’s rich heritage and history. The first annual Magpul shooting match will be held this summer.

State Parks Initiative This initiative will provide recommendations on how to expand our great outdoor recreation opportunities.

The Governor announced, in December the National Park Service (NPS) completed the purchase of the 640 acre Antelope Flats Wyoming State Trust Land parcel in Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) for $46 million. Half of the funding was provided through private donations to the GTNP Foundation. These funds are in the Common Schools Trust Fund and are expected to generate more that $1 million annually for our schools. There is one remaining 640 acre parcel, the Kelly parcel, in the Gros Venture range. Additional legislative authorization will be needed to authorize selling it to the NPS.

This summer the Governor asked State agencies to implement $250 million in cuts from the 2017/2018 Biennium Budget. He referred to these as “difficult but necessary cuts.” His Supplemental Budget proposal will make these cuts permanent. The executive branch operating budget which was $2.9 billion in 2010, is now a little over $2.5 billion.

This session Mead is asking for the following general fund requests: $5 million for local governments, $2.5 million for ENDOW, $500,000 for the University of Wyoming’s Science Initiative; $475,000 for the University of Wyoming’s Strategic Enrollment Program; and $160,000 for Tribal Liaisons. These requests total just over $8.6 million and, at this time, are all one-time asks.

Throughout his address the Governor recognized outstanding Wyoming citizens for their contributions to the strength of our state. He has asked the Legislature to not grow the LSRA, and instead divert funds to address budget requests. Of primary concern, is the funding shortfall our education system is facing. The School Foundation Program can fund our K-12 school operations through this biennium. However, beginning with the 2019/2020 biennium there is a projected shortfall of 1.5 billion over the next 5 years, not including facility requests.

He concluded by stating, “…we remain obligated to do what is best, not for ourselves, or our   political parties, but for our citizens… May God continue to bless Wyoming, the United States and all of her people.”