State of the States
Wyo. Weighs Its Priorities Amid Boom
Gov. Dave Freudenthal of Wyoming, whose state is enjoying a booming economy thanks to the development of mineral rights, urged the legislature to be fiscally responsible in its decisions during his State of the State Address last week.
“No one ever built a business or a state by recklessly spending every penny,” the Democrat told the legislature Jan. 13 at the start of its 20-day session. “And no one ever built a business or a state,” he said, “by saving every penny and failing to invest in infrastructure and people.”
Wyoming, which has a proposed biennial budget of about $2.1 billion for the current fiscal year, is projecting a budget surplus of nearly $2 billion this fiscal year. Gov. Freudenthal presented his budget, which includes $268 million for precollegiate education over the next two years, to a joint committee of the legislature in December. The committee modified his proposal before presenting it to the full body for consideration last week. The last biennial budget included $231 million for precollegiate education funding, making the new proposal a 16 percent increase.
Scholarships: Among the areas in which Gov. Freudenthal wants to spend more are education and early-childhood development. He encouraged lawmakers to fully fund the state’s new Hathaway Scholarship Program, which would provide grants of up to $1,600 per semester to qualified high school graduates to attend the University of Wyoming or community colleges in the state. An estimated $400 million would be set aside in a trust fund to pay for the program.
When the program was approved last year, the trust fund was going to be filled more slowly, but the governor has suggested accelerating the process so that the scholarships could be in place for this year’s high school graduates.
Budget: Mr. Freudenthal urged the legislature to restore some of the programs that the joint committee removed from his proposal, including a $24 million peer-training program for teachers and a $27 million summer school and extended-day program for students who are struggling academically. The governor said that a recent court decision in a long-running school finance case endorsed such programs.
“We should not abandon the approach generally endorsed by the court without a solid, cost-based reason,” he said.
Early Childhood: Gov. Freudenthal also recommended that $19.2 million be spent on a children and families initiative that would improve the availability of child care and early-childhood education.
“For those who want a guarantee this would work, I say there are no guarantees except that if you do nothing, our grandchildren will live in an era of neglected children and struggling families,” he said. “For me, this is simply not acceptable.”
Vol. 25, Issue 24, Page 29