Legislature Continues UW Investments
The projected downturn in state revenues -- as a result of sinking natural gas prices -- set the tone for the recently completed legislative session. Gov. Matt Mead and lawmakers rejected most funding requests that would have increased ongoing state spending and added to the state's long-term fiscal commitments. Those commitments included salary increases for executive branch employees, community college personnel and UW faculty and staff.
Before the start of the session, Gov. Mead and the Joint Appropriations Interim Committee requested that all state agencies, including UW, prepare scenarios for 2 percent, 5 percent and 8 percent reductions in their respective standard operating budgets. If the Legislature had implemented these options, especially the last two, positions would have been reduced, and some UW personnel would have lost their jobs.
In the end, the governor and Legislature did not to reduce most agencies' budgets, but also did not approve salary increases. Some legislators sponsored amendments to provide salary increases for nearly all state employees, including UW personnel, but those amendments attracted little support. Further, the House of Representatives adopted two amendments that would have prohibited the use of state General Funds or tuition revenues for salaries. Although the Senate did not concur with this binding position, a strong message was delivered regarding the expected use of UW (and community college) funding.
Notwithstanding the lack of upward adjustments to salaries, the Legislature continued to invest substantially in the state's only university, especially in areas of capital construction and one-time funding initiatives. UW's standard budget was approved -- and even expanded -- with new, re-occurring funds related to its ongoing agreement with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and UW libraries. The latter would assist with the goal of UW becoming a member of the Greater Western Library Alliance.
The Legislature also supported the governor's recommendation for additional general funds in UW's medical education budget for the Cheyenne residency clinic ($2.3 million), WWAMI ($1.625 million) and WYDENT ($228,500).
Due primarily to the fact these types of expenditures do not increase the state's long-term fiscal commitment, there was a great deal of one-time funding appropriated. UW received up to $28.4 million, in a combination of state funds and authorization for bonding and private fundraising, for the Performing Arts Building, UW's top capital construction priority.
Other UW building projects garnering legislative support include White Hall renovations ($10 million in bonding); Half Acre Recreation Center ($27 million in a combination of state funds and bonding); Arena-Auditorium expansion and improvements ($10 million in state funds to be matched by $10 million in private funding and bond authorization); and an agricultural and outreach facility in Sheridan ($5.3 million in state funds).
The Legislature also made a down payment of $30 million in state matching funds toward the future renovation and expansion of the College of Engineering and Applied Science, as well as $1.1 million for Level II planning and design for the College of Engineering and Applied Science.
The Legislature shifted the source of funding for the School of Energy Resources' (SER) operations from non-recurring Abandoned Mine Land (AML) money to recurring, state general funds. SER also received $25 million in one-time regular and matching funds to implement its strategic plan over the next several years.
The Legislature agreed to appropriate additional (exception) funding for research related to clean coal, value-added mineral products, hybrid energy systems, glass manufacturing, rare earth minerals and brucellosis. UW's high-performance computing infrastructure attracted $2.17 million in one-time funding, and the Wyoming Conservation Corps received approval for $100,000. The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources' seed lab received a modest increase in resources. Finally, the Legislature appropriated $19 million for major maintenance for the next biennium and $5 million for infrastructure improvements.
The amount of one-time funding that garnered legislative support demonstrates that the governor and legislators continue to understand that its only four-year institution of higher education will play a determinative role in Wyoming's future.
However, the concern about the projected decline in state revenue continues to influence state government and the Legislature's ability to support funding for additional ongoing expenses. In that light, the Legislature directed all agencies, including UW, to present scenarios for a 4 percent reduction for the next fiscal year (FY14), sustained over the following biennium.