- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said Tuesday he believes the state is in good shape going into the legislative budget session that starts next week.

Mead’s State of the State address will kick off the legislative session that starts Monday in Cheyenne. Lawmakers have set aside four weeks to craft a budget for the two-year funding period that starts July 1.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Mead said he’s generally satisfied with the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee’s recommendations on his proposed budget.

The committee last month endorsed a budget that closely tracks Mead’s proposed draft budget on the issues of pay raises for state employees and supporting $175 million in state funding for counties and local governments.

Wyoming, which has over $17 billion in investments, cashed in on last year’s record-breaking stock market gains to lock in nearly $600 million in capital gains in the fiscal year that ran through last June. That money will be available to spend in the two-year budget cycle that begins this July and will help the state avoid a repeat of recent budget cuts.

“I’ll be able to say with confidence that the state’s in good shape financially,” Mead said. “So I think we’re heading into the budget session financial-wise about as well as you could.”

While the committee endorsed Mead’s recommendation of $175 million for local governments, it also recommended possibly setting aside an unspecified portion of that money if necessary to reimburse counties that rely heavily on the federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program.

It remains unclear whether Congress this year will ultimately fund the PILT program, which makes payments to counties to cover the tax revenues they lose by having federal lands in their borders.

Mead said putting money into the state’s local-government infrastructure gives a guaranteed return.

“It’s important to recognize that the money that Wyoming has doesn’t come from the (Capitol) rotunda,” Mead said. “It comes from those communities, and we need them to continue to be strong. And infrastructure needs need to continue to be met in order for them to be strong.”

Mead has recommended against expanding the federal Medicaid program despite federal promises to pay all the cost for the first few years of expanding the program under the Affordable Care Act.

Wyoming legislators voted last year to reject $50 million in federal money for the optional Medicaid expansion that would extend health insurance coverage to an estimated 17,600 people.

A legislative committee has endorsed bills in the coming session that would expand the Medicaid program, so the issue is likely to see debate in the coming session.

Mead said he doesn’t see large numbers of young people registering for health-insurance coverage under the program, and he remains concerned about trusting the federal government to follow through on promises to pick up the future costs of expanding the program.

Mead said he’s not certain whether lawmakers will try to move any legislation in the coming session to address the recent decision by the Wyoming Supreme Court overturning a bill he signed into law last year that stripped many powers from the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The Wyoming Attorney General’s Office has said it intends to ask for a rehearing of the court’s recent ruling on the superintendent issue.

Mead has said he will announce after the legislative session whether he will seek re-election in the fall to a second four-year term.

“I will say that people are sending in checks now,” Mead said of his campaign. “We are looking forward to making the announcement, and probably my announcement won’t provide any surprise to most people.”

Asked whether he’s cashing the checks, Mead said, “We’re depositing them, but we’re not doing any campaigning whatsoever.”

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