Gordon prioritizes saving ARPA funds and strengthening the economy | Wyoming News
Jasmine Hall Wyoming Tribune Eagle Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE – Gov. Mark Gordon on Thursday outlined his plan for the state’s more than $ 1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act federal funds, suggesting more than half should be saved for the future.
The remainder was allocated to large-scale energy projects, economic development, higher education initiatives, preservation of art and history, conservation of wildlife, outdoor recreation and health services.
The governor’s office has spent the past few weeks breaking down the $ 4 billion in requests from stakeholders, the public, and state agencies to select and share with lawmakers. Members of the Joint Appropriations Committee heard proposals for negotiations in the next 2022 budget session, during which funding could be adjusted and redefined priorities.
“I think these funds need to be used strategically and deliver benefits to our grandchildren,” Gordon told committee members Thursday morning. “This is what guided my recommendations and my criteria for supporting projects. This goal has been invaluable and has helped focus our efforts on what will make Wyoming stronger. “
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Gordon’s goal of saving over half a billion dollars for the future was in line with “the principles set out at the start of this effort to preserve opportunity and foster long-term resilience.”
But some lawmakers have questioned whether it might not be better to immediately allocate more than half of the funding to communities in Wyoming. Representative Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, said she understood concerns about the future of state revenues, but said too many communities were struggling not to spend the money.
“We’re certainly not hearing cries for more money to be saved,” she said.
Provenza said it was not to point the finger at the governor because the legislature had empowered the state to worry about the future by not diversifying sources of revenue.
Political leaders across the country are having these kinds of discussions about where to allocate ARPA dollars. The funding is intended to address the immediate and long-term effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with the law totaling $ 1.9 trillion in spending for states, counties, towns and tribes.
Wyoming received $ 524 million in May and will receive a second payment of the same amount next year under the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recover Funds.
Gordon announced that his top three priorities for funding are to retain and attract working families to live permanently in the state, strengthen the economy and better align the economic development of the workforce. work and educational opportunities. Other areas identified included broadband expansion, investments in infrastructure, healthcare solutions and government efficiency.
The first and highest monetary proposal suggested by the Governor to achieve these goals was that $ 100 million be placed in the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account, also known as the “Rainy Day Fund”, and earmarked to private sector or federal funds for future large scale energy projects. Examples included investing in carbon use and storage, carbon dioxide transport, hydrogen production, and solar development.
“While we are certainly not throwing in the towel on our ‘all of the above’ energy strategy, these are opportunities for major private and federally funded projects that will position Wyoming as a continuing energy powerhouse in the new. energy paradigm, ”he said. .
The second largest credit was $ 75 million to the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust Fund, which is charged with enhancing the value of the state’s wildlife and natural resources. Executive Director Bob Budd said funded projects range from rebuilding rivers to conserving local wildlife.
The program was previously set out in state law to have a minimum of $ 200 million in the trust, and Gordon said it was time to make an effort to fully fund the inheritance. Budd agreed and explained that the agency was running just over half of that. Now, he said, the funding would improve and benefit people who maintain the land and wildlife, like elk, mule deer and trout.
“I think this bodes well for our ability to do the work that we have been doing, to continue and develop it,” he said. “… It’s a big deal, and it’s probably late.”
Education would receive another significant portion of the funding, with $ 55 million recommended for the Wyoming Innovation Partnership. The partnership includes local higher education institutions that will create collaborative courses in entrepreneurship, energy, technology, tourism and hospitality to keep an innovative local workforce.
“We have worked with community colleges and the university to establish flexible and deployable funding to meet the needs of new workforce development programs,” Gordon said. “Support economic innovation and meet the challenges of providing the latest and most relevant technologies, rather than funding programs whose constituencies are always willing to use public funds to fund them.” “
Other general fund projects included: $ 40 million for grants to develop outdoor recreation in Wyoming; $ 30 million for economic development efforts to support mining, agriculture and entrepreneurship; and $ 10 million to match federal funds for wildlife and highway crossing projects.
Another investment, similar to the Wildlife Trust Fund, was for the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund in the amount of $ 10 million. Although this is a smaller contribution in comparison, the program coordinator, Renée Bovée, said she was delighted. This will allow grants and funding to go to cultural preservation, archeology, prehistory, research, surveys and a contemporary art festival.
“It’s more than the product that we help support, it’s the people behind it,” she said. “And that’s the economic development of a community.
These types of revenue replacement proposals were nearly $ 207 million and the bulk of the governor’s presentation, but there is still $ 279 million left to deal with the immediate and long-term impacts of the pandemic.
One of the more notable funding proposals mentioned was the $ 22.6 million Housing Trust Investment.
“I propose to make a very significant investment, first in a more flexible and responsible housing program,” said Gordon.
The grant is a pilot project to provide seed funding to better address the statewide housing crisis of Wyoming, which will fund housing for Wyoming’s workforce, residents without- shelter, low to moderate income rentals, and moderate income home ownership.
The remaining eligible ARPA dollars were, in large part, allocated to the Wyoming Department of Health. The governor recommended that more than $ 100 million be allocated to mental health services, suicide prevention, capital construction, telehealth and other services.
Mental health has received a considerable percentage of the dollars allocated to the Department of Health. About $ 7 million has been envisioned for efforts to expand the Suicide Lifeline to a 24-hour service, $ 200,000 for mental health first aid training, and $ 20 million for innovations in the areas of mental health. reform of behavioral health, substance abuse and other services.
Overall, the largest portion of funding in this area was $ 40 million for the health and social services capital construction account.
The recommendations made by the governor are not final and will be considered by state lawmakers during the budget session, which begins on February 14. Some members of the appropriations committee said they should always take their constituents’ demands into account as they arise. in the new year.
The state also expects the arrival of several other new funding programs created by the federal government, as well as possible funding for infrastructure legislation worth $ 1,000 billion passed by Congress. in November.
“What we’ve all discovered is that for every billion dollars we have, there are four billion places to go,” said Senator Drew Perkins, R-Casper.