- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - Providing the first hard numbers on how the state’s deepening budget crisis is affecting Wyoming, Gov. Matt Mead said the University of Wyoming needs to cut $35 million from its just-approved two-year budget because of falling state energy revenues.

The $35 million is on top of nearly $6 million lawmakers cut from the state’s only public, four-year university during the legislative session that ended in early March, Mead said.

Mead delivered the grim news in person to the UW Board of Trustees on Wednesday afternoon.

While the news is tough, Mead said, he’s confident the state and university will weather the crisis.

“We will get through this,” he said, noting his 18-year-old daughter has decided to attend the university.

Mead said his office is also discussing cuts in other state agencies, including the Department of Health and Corrections, but the UW figure is the first one settled on.

The news comes as the university prepares to undergo a change in its top administrative post. New President Laurie Nichols takes over from outgoing President Dick McGinity next Monday.

Nichols was not at the meeting Wednesday, but Mead acknowledged “it’s a tough way to start out.”

McGinity said the $35 million cut likely will mean personnel cuts although it’s too soon to put a number on it.

“It will be difficult and painful, but the university will find a way,” McGinity said.

The trustees will likely have to hold an extra meeting in June in order to apply the cuts to the new fiscal year 2017-18 budget.

Wyoming derives most of its tax revenue from the mineral extraction industry. However, low coal prices, growing wind and natural gas competition and new federal regulations have taken a toll on the industry. Several major coal companies with mines in Wyoming have filed for bankruptcy and hundreds of mine workers have been laid off in recent weeks. Thousands of other jobs directly and indirectly linked to the energy industry also have been lost.

The Legislature this past winter approved a slimmed down budget, but the situation has worsened since lawmakers left Cheyenne, forcing Mead to impose additional cuts that represent about 8 percent of the state’s new $3 billion two-year budget.

Speaking after the meeting with trustees, Mead said he believed the new cuts will be sufficient to get the state through the year and up to the next legislative session early in 2017.

However, if the budget crisis worsens this summer, a special session of the Legislature may be “something you just have to do.”

Mead said he still rejects raising taxes, noting that the state still has $1.59 billion untapped in a rainy day fund.

“I just don’t see that’s doable for taxpayers; frankly as a taxpayer I don’t think that either,” he said.

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