Wyoming Tribune Eagle
CHEYENNE — Gov. Mark Gordon presented his plan Thursday for the state’s more than $1 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, suggesting that more than half should be saved for the future.
The rest was allocated for large-scale energy projects, economic development, higher education initiatives, art and historic preservation, wildlife conservation, outdoor recreation, and health services.
The governor’s office has spent the past few weeks breaking down the $4 billion in requests from stakeholders, the public and state agencies to select and share with legislators. Members of the Joint Appropriations Committee heard the proposals in preparation for negotiations during the upcoming 2022 budget session, where funding could be adjusted and reprioritized.
“I believe these funds must be used strategically and provide benefits for our grandchildren,” Gordon told committee members Thursday morning. “This is what has guided my recommendations.”
The ARPA dollars are meant to address the immediate and long-term effects of the pandemic, with the act totaling $1.9 trillion in spending for states, counties, cities and tribes. Wyoming received $524 million in May, and will collect a second payment of the same amount next year.
The first and highest monetary proposal suggested by the governor was that $100 million be placed in the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account, aka the “rainy-day fund,” and earmarked to match private sector or federal funds for future large-scale energy projects. Examples included investment in carbon capture utilization and storage, carbon dioxide transportation, hydrogen production and solar development.
The second-largest appropriation was $75 million to the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust Fund, which is charged with enhancing the wildlife and natural resource values of the state. Executive Director Bob Budd said projects that are funded range from rebuilding rivers to conservation of local wildlife. The program was previously envisioned in state statute to have a minimum of $200 million in the trust, and Gordon said it was time to make an effort to fully fund the legacy.
Education would receive another significant portion of the funding, with the governor recommending $55 million go toward the Wyoming Innovation Partnership. The partnership includes state higher education institutions that will create collaborative courses in entrepreneurship, energy, technology, tourism and hospitality to keep workforce local.
Other general fund projects included: $40 million for grants to grow outdoor recreation in Wyoming; $30 million for economic development efforts to support mining, agriculture and entrepreneurship; and $10 million to match federal funds for wildlife and highway crossing projects.
Another investment, similar to the Wildlife Trust Fund, was $10 million for the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund. This will allow grants and funding to go toward cultural preservation, archeology, prehistory, research, investigations and a contemporary arts festival.
Another $279 million was left to more specifically address the immediate and long-term impacts of the pandemic.
One of the more notable funding proposals Gordon mentioned was the Housing Trust Investment for $22.6 million.
“I propose making a very significant investment, first in a more flexible and responsible housing program,” he said.
The grant is a pilot to provide startup financing to better address Wyoming’s statewide housing crisis, which will fund housing for Wyoming’s workforce, homeless residents, low-to-moderate income rentals and moderate-income home ownership.
Other eligible ARPA dollars were, in large part, allocated to the Wyoming Department of Health. The governor recommended more than $100 million be allocated for mental health services, suicide prevention, capital construction, telehealth and other services. Around $7 million was considered for efforts to expand the Suicide Lifeline to a 24-hour service, $200,000 for mental health first aid training and $20 million for innovations in the areas of behavioral health reform, substance abuse and other services.
Overall, the largest portion of funding in this area was $40 million for the Health and Human Services Capital Construction Account.
Gordon said his goal to save more than half a billion dollars for the future was in accordance with “the principles outlined at the start of this endeavor to preserve opportunity and foster long-term resilience.”
Gordon’s recommendations aren’t final and will be considered by state legislators during the budget session starting Feb. 14.