Monday, July 13th, and Tuesday, July 14th, the Joint Appropriations Committee met to discuss Wyoming’s economic future. Part of this discussion was focused on bringing school districts into the state health care plan as a potential means of cost savings. This proposal was met with staunch resistance from members of JAC as well as testimony from Willis Towers Watson, Wyoming Educator’s Benefit Trust (WEBT), and the Wyoming School Boards Association Insurance Trust (WSBAIT). It was noted by all that requiring districts to participate in the State Employee and Officials Group Health Insurance (EGI) would end up costing districts more and would be an ineffective measure of cost savings.
Governor Gordon addressed the JAC, announcing that he has approved over $250 million in state budget cuts. He is requesting that all state agencies find an additional 10% in cuts, across the board, to be submitted before summer’s end. Budget cuts are inevitable in the face of this fiscal crisis, but cuts alone come nowhere near balancing Wyoming’s books.
This point was reiterated Tuesday by Angela Oh, the Senior Manager for the Pew Charitable Trusts Fiscal and Economic Policy and State Fiscal Health department, as well as Mandy Rafool and Jackson Brainard from the National Conference of State Legislators. Angela noted that after the 2008 financial crisis, states’ revenue recovery was correlated directly to the diversification of their revenue streams. The state of Wyoming had one of the slowest recoveries and is projected by the Pew Charitable Trust to have an even slower and more difficult recovery from the current financial crisis due to our over-reliance on the state’s extraction industries.
Historically, Wyoming’s economy is one of the most volatile in the US. In many ways, the volatility of the state’s economy is felt most by its citizens of modest means during times of financial difficulty.
As the state enters into an economic downturn and many across the state brace for furloughs or layoffs, some members of the Joint Appropriations Committee began targeting education for cuts. One proposal from the JAC looked at reexamining funds allocated to school capital construction projects. The Wyoming Education Association would gladly work with the legislature in discussing those projects that could be prioritized to achieve some cost savings. Furthermore, the Wyoming Education Association advocates for districts to make their materials purchases as a group to build cost savings into the procurement of goods for classrooms.
No area of Wyoming’s economy will go untouched by the fiscal crisis looming before our state. There are options at the Federal level that, if passed, will help mitigate negative impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak on schools in Wyoming and across the nation. The HEROE’s Act includes “$915 billion in direct relief for sate and local governments that can be used to pay vital workers such as educators,” and includes $90 billion in
additional education funding. The HEROES Act, if passed, will save more than 800,000 education jobs, 673,000 of those in K-12, and 153,000 in higher ed. The Senate has stalled in approving this measure that would reduce the necessity for our state legislature to actively pursue cuts in education.
Wyoming must diversify and stabilize our economy away from dependence on revenues generated by the extraction industry. It’s no secret that the extraction industry can no longer foot the bill for Wyoming service provision, and that includes education. But, as we work together to find solutions, there exists a federal stopgap that buys us time. The HEROES act buys us time to ensure that Wyoming schools remain adequately funded, and Wyoming students continue to enjoy an equitable, high-quality education while we develop our longterm framework for continued success in public education. Act today and contact Senators Enzi and Barrasso to support and pass the HEROES Act. Wyoming educators cannot wait.