- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Wyoming lawmakers are proposing to cut the flow of cash into the state’s rainy day fund to cover the recent decrease in revenue brought about by lower energy prices.

A draft supplemental budget bill released Tuesday calls for intercepting nearly $200 million that had been on track for deposit into the state’s Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account. The full House and Senate will start considering the bill next week.

The move would leave the balance in the state’s so-called rainy day fund at roughly $1.8 billion at the end of the current fiscal year this summer, rather than $2 billion as the state had forecast.

Falling energy prices forced state financial experts last month to reduce revenue projections by $217 million for the current two-year funding cycle. The state’s entire general fund and reserve account budget for the period is roughly $3.5 billion.

Oil prices have fallen from nearly $90 a barrel in October to about $53 a barrel. Every $5-per-barrel decline costs Wyoming about $35 million a year.

Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, said the supplemental bill “plugged the budget hole” left by the lower revenue projections.

Sen. Drew Perkins, R-Casper, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said it will be up to the entire Legislature whether to approve the budget bill’s approach.

“We’ll see what the body thinks as a whole,” Perkins said. “I think the first step when you find yourself with a little bit of financial stress, like we find ourselves with the current energy prices, is before you dig into the rainy day fund, the first thing is it’s probably fair to not add to it.”

Beyond covering the shortfall, the supplemental budget bill calls for increasing spending over the budget approved last year by about $8 million, with spending on nursing homes and developmental disabilities waivers getting most of it.

“The elderly and the most vulnerable in our population, we’re taking care of first, we met those needs first,” said Harshman, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Beyond that, the budget bill also proposes making contingent appropriations against revenue lawmakers expect to receive from capital gains on state investments. The state treasurer has a policy of not counting the funds as available until the end of the fiscal year when it reconciles capital gains and losses.

For the remainder of the current fiscal year, the budget bill calls for $112.6 million in contingent appropriations. Big-ticket items include $37.5 million for the Capitol building rehabilitation and restoration account, roughly $50 million for projects at the University of Wyoming and $2.4 million for the Gillette Madison pipeline project.

For fiscal year 2016, the budget bill calls for nearly $166 million in contingent appropriations. Big-ticket items that year would include another $37.5 million for the Capitol restoration, $30 million for a science initiative at UW and $45 million for construction projects at state facilities.

Harshman said it’s important for Wyoming to save during the good times.

“You have to be counter-cyclical,” he said. “When times are really good, you have to save some money for when times are down, you’re able to continue services and continue projects that invest and grow in the state. Nobody wants to put up a sign like we did 15 or 20 years ago, ‘closed for business,’ because we were so broke.”

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