Gov. Mark Gordon thanked the Wyoming House of Representatives and Senate for accomplishing their top priorities over the last month: passing a frugal budget and redistricting.
During a Monday news conference, Gordon noted the “clean, transparent” $2.8 billion budget came in $400 million under the last biennium budget, which was passed right before the COVID-19 pandemic forced stricter management of state spending.
The one-time $1.1 billion of federal American Rescue Plan money for economic relief from COVID-19 was appropriated with a different piece of legislation, with the state government keeping more than half of the money in its coffers.
Concerning the American Rescue Plan spending, Gordon pointed out as successes the use of federal dollars on post-secondary education through the Wyoming Innovation Partnership, a 24/7 suicide hotline and expanded broadband.
“Since [the government] borrowed from succeeding generations, I want to make sure succeeding generations would benefit,” Gordon said.
The governor also lauded both chambers for approving $64.8 million for state agency workers to be distributed based on regional market analyses, which Gordon has repeatedly called his personal first priority with general fund appropriations.
“I’m really thrilled that that passed the way it did,” Gordon said.
Meanwhile, growing concerns over high housing costs were not addressed in any legislation that made it through, and the governor mentioned that the Wyoming Community Development Authority could help build out programs for lower and middle income housing affordability, though he didn’t specify how.
“I do think there is additional funding that will be coming that we can apply towards [housing affordability],” he said, “[but] it’s not only Jackson, it’s also Sheridan, it’s Crook County, it’s Gillette, it’s Laramie County.”
While nationwide inflation surged during the budget session, the governor said, there is more flexibility in this budget for agencies to keep a distance between entry-level and senior employees.
“What happened in the past is agencies couldn’t attract people without raising wages of the starting level, which compressed those who had been there a long time,” he said.
“In Jackson you probably know it better than most how challenging it is for teachers to find housing, how challenging it is for snowplow drivers,” he said.
Although the budget was not designed to make state employee pay competitive with the marketplace, that will be an issue for his next campaign, he said.
The same day Gordon delivered his remarks on the budget, he signed one executive order to end the state’s COVID-19 public health emergency and a second to add a 60-day emergency protection for nurses getting their licenses to retain healthcare workers.
The bills marked, almost to the day, two years since Gordon declared a state of emergency for COVID-19.