CHEYENNE — Gov. Mark Gordon and the Wyoming Legislature are playing the long game when it comes to American Rescue Plan relief funding, mapping out a three-pronged plan that is centered around serving future generations of Wyomingites.
With the state being granted about $1 billion to spend by the end of 2026 — in addition to more funding for municipalities, infrastructure improvements and schools — the governor’s “Strike Team” has outlined the state’s near-term, mid-term and long-term spending strategies based on surviving, driving and then thriving.
“At its core, this strategy is based on a belief that since this money is essentially borrowed from our great grandchildren and our grandchildren, we have the obligation to be wise in providing lasting benefits for the state, so that they too can enjoy some of the benefits,” Gordon said during the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations interim committee meeting last Tuesday.
Each expenditure under the American Rescue Plan, which totaled $1.9 trillion, will be evaluated under these guidelines in Wyoming: it must have a long-term impact and a return on investment; it must not replenish budget cuts, unless the replenishment is sustainable; where possible, it must leverage the dollars through matching or buying programs; it must create capacity for the future; it must benefit a wide group of citizens; and it must support stimulus over relief.
While the CARES Act funding was meant to get out the door and into the hands of those who need it quickly, with an original deadline set for the end of 2020, the Rescue Plan funds are meant to be more long term.
And with broader allowances of how to use Rescue Plan funds than the CARES Act, a range of expenditures in the “survive” phase have already been outlined.
Some spending funneled directly to state agencies, like the Department of Health, is also included in phase one, though it does not count in the state’s $1 billion allocation because it came straight from the federal government.
Initiatives already funded in phase one of Wyoming’s recovery include the following:
$5 million for local tourism marketing agencies to help create a “safe and robust” tourism season
$6.5 million to help address state parks overcrowding
$200 million for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program
$5 million for a pilot of the federal Homeowners Assistance Fund to address mortgage delinquencies
Initiatives in phase one that are prioritized for CARES Act funding but have yet to be funded include the following:
$60 million for tax relief for businesses
$200,000 to identify which areas in the state are underserved or unserved in terms of broadband connectivity
$1.2 million to create Substance Use Disorder programming at the Wyoming Honor Conservation Camp
$1 million to reimburse youth crisis centers for costs of COVID-19-related services
The Strike Team — composed of local and state elected officials and staff from the governor’s office, Workforce Services, the Wyoming Business Council, the Health Department and Family Services — is still identifying specifics for phases two and three.
But another funding option the state can consider is how to use some $300 million in relief funding that will be granted due to a loss in state revenue from the pandemic.
Under the American Rescue Plan, Legislative Service Office Budget and Fiscal Administrator Don Richards said, any financial losses during COVID-19 will be presumed to be the result of the pandemic.
So even though the state saw dramatic effects from the global price war on oil between Russia and Saudi Arabia, those losses will still be included in the calculation at this point, he said.
While other relief funds are tied up in specific uses allowed by the federal government, the revenue backfill can be used on a range of services.
Richards said, “Government services can include but are not limited to: maintenance of infrastructure; new infrastructure, including roads; modernization of cybersecurity, including hardware and software; protection of critical infrastructure; health services; environmental remediation; schools; educational services; provision of fire, police, and other public safety services; it goes on.”
“That’s a huge difference as to what was eligible under the (American Rescue Plan) Act in the absence of a revenue shortfall, versus when there is an identified revenue shortfall,” he said. “It opens up a lot of potential expenditures.”
The exact amount of the budget shortfall is still being calculated, but Richards said they expect it to be in the $300 million range.
The state has already received the first half of its $1 billion allocation, with the second $534 million deposit coming in 2022.
The state-level funds must be obligated for a specific use by the end of 2024 and actually spent by the end of 2026.