Gov. Matt Mead wants Wyoming to develop a plan for handling $2 billion 'rainy day fund'

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CHEYENNE, Wyoming — Gov. Matt Mead said Monday it's time for Wyoming to develop a clear policy on how much money to keep in its rainy day fund — and what the fund is ultimately going to be used for.

The state, which draws the bulk of its revenues from energy development, has about $2 billion in the fund, called the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account.

Mead unveiled a $156 million supplemental budget request on Monday. He will present it to state lawmakers to consider in the legislative session starting next month.

Mead's big-ticket items include $27.5 million for University of Wyoming projects, $25 million in local government funding, more than $21 million for highway improvements and $18.6 million for water projects.

Mead didn't suggest using the rainy day fund for his budget request. He said the state has plenty from other sources to cover it.

Mead, now finishing his first term, said the rainy day fund was between $800 million and $900 million when he took office four years ago.

"The rainy day fund has doubled during my time in office, and the permanent fund has grown by 55 percent," Mead said. "We believe that that amount of savings is unequaled in that short a period of time, to have the rainy day fund doubled, and to the permanent fund grow by more than 55 percent in about four years."

The state's Permanent Mineral Trust Fund stands at over $6.4 billion, part of a state investment portfolio that stood at over $18 billion this fall, not counting state worker pension investments.

"If it's truly for a rainy day, should we start looking at ways to define what a rainy day is?" Mead said. "Because as it is now, it's certainly subjective for the Legislature and for the governor to decide how big it should be and what it's going to be used for."

Mead said there are counties and towns across Wyoming that aren't in good shape. "They see that rainy day fund, and they legitimately are asking the question, 'what is the purpose of the rainy day fund?'" he said. "So again, we should have this discussion, because as we've had unparalleled savings the last four years."

The overwhelmingly Republican Wyoming Legislature has emphasized putting money into rainy day fund in recent years.

Many senior lawmakers say they recall when the state was forced to live on its savings during past downturns in the energy markets. They say they want the state to have enough set aside in accessible savings that it could fund a full biennial budget for state operations, currently about $3.5 billion.

Senate President Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, will serve as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee in the coming legislative session.

Ross said Monday many in legislative leadership agree that it's time to take, "a hard look at what we're doing and what's the most appropriate and effective way to handle these accounts into the future."

Ross said the process of developing an overall strategic policy about how much Wyoming should have in the LSRA and other accounts could continue beyond the coming legislative session.

Rep. Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne, will serve as minority floor leader in the coming legislative session. She's been vocal in recent years that the state needs to save less and spend more on programs that help people.

"I think the public's going to demand that we explain to them what we're doing with this money," Throne said Monday. "If they see their roads crumbling around them, and their community services declining, they need to understand what we're doing with a $2 billion account. We're not a bank; we're a government."

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