Some 677 private-sector workers in health care are among the latest job loss casualties in Wyoming’s continuing economic slide.
Gov. Matt Mead announced $248 million in cuts to state agencies and programs Tuesday. The cuts are in addition to the Legislature’s budget slashing earlier this year, which included an 8 percent across-the-board austerity measure for state government.
The Wyoming Department of Health bears the largest second-round cut, losing $90 million on top of the 10 million already cut from its 2017-18 biennium budget. That reduction in state funding means there will be a corresponding reduction in matching federal dollars — an additional $43 million resulting in the loss of 677 private-sector health care jobs across the state.
“I don’t like these reductions. You won’t like these reductions. We will lose sleep over these job losses,” Mead told lawmakers on the Joint Appropriations Committee Tuesday morning in Cheyenne.
Local competition for elective procedures and an overall declining economy forced Wyoming Medical Center in Casper to trim its budget by $7.2 million earlier this month. The losses included 58 layoffs and the elimination of another 57 unfilled positions.
“I must admit I am horrified and astounded by the job-loss figures at DOH,” said Rep. Cathy Connolly (D-Laramie).
Mead had urged lawmakers to expand Medicaid, which they declined to do for the fourth year in a row. Had the state expanded Medicaid this year it would have helped minimize job losses in health care, but it would not have prevented a majority of them, Mead said.
Instead, cuts are unavoidable as the outlook for Wyoming’s fossil-fuel dependent economy continues to get worse, Mead said. State forecasters adjusted their revenue outlook downward in April and said the budget for the current fiscal year (ending July 1) may be short by $110 million to $130 million. Had the current shortfall reached $150 million, it would have triggered authority for the governor to tap what’s referred to as the state’s rainy day fund.
But he didn’t have that option. And the outlook beyond the current fiscal year is even worse. In fact, the 2017-18 budget just signed into law may fall short by anywhere from $240 million to $510 million, according to the state’s revised revenue projections.
Mead said he chose to cut at the low end for the budget shortfall range to minimize damage to state agencies and the services they provide. Several agencies have been cut to the point of barely meeting their mission and legal obligations, he said. One such agency is the Public Defender’s Office. Instead of cutting its budget further, Mead reappropriated $500,000 to the agency that the Legislature had cut.
At a press conference later on Tuesday, reporters asked Mead whether the continuing deterioration of the state’s economic outlook had caused him to reconsider the need to reform tax policy to generate more revenue. The governor said no. Before discussing tax adjustments to raise more revenue, Mead said, the state needs to discuss and agree on what is the appropriate level of state government, and what is the purpose and appropriate use of the state’s rainy day fund.
“If you raise taxes you have to ask who is paying those,” Mead said, adding that 70 percent of the state’s revenues come from the minerals industries. “And they’re already leaving the state and going bankrupt.”
Read this summary of Gov. Matt Mead’s budget cuts: