CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) – Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon met Wednesday with the Legislature’s Management Council to talk about one or more special legislative sessions to allocate emergency federal funding and address the economic effects of the coronavirus, which Gordon warned will be “massive.”
The Wyoming Legislature hasn’t met in a special session since 2004, but one is required to allocate the $1.25 billion dollars from the federal CARES Act. The most likely plan is for a 1-day session to do that followed by a longer one this summer to address budget impacts.
Senate President Drew Perkins of Casper said a short session addressing immediate matters related to the funding was “not unlike an airdrop of foodstuffs to a starving relief effort.”
As much as half and sometimes more of the state’s revenue comes from coal, oil and natural gas production – each of which have already been hit hard in recent years by weak demand and low prices.
A price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia and social distancing in response to the coronavirus have driven oil prices to lows unseen in almost two decades, leading to a worst-case prediction last week that state revenue could drop between $556 million and $2.8 billion by the middle of 2022
Legislative budget and fiscal administrator Don Richards told the committee a mid-range scenario of a $1.7 billion revenue hit would result in a revenue decline similar to the 2016 drop that prompted then-Gov. Matt Mead to cut $240 million in spending but would be much worse by lasting longer.
Governor Gordon announced Wednesday he was ordering all agencies to align spending with revenue – telling department heads to freeze hiring, halt general fund contracts over $100,000 and review spending on facilities maintenance.
Wednesday’s meeting was the first by video conference for the Legislative Management Council. Gordon took part from his office in the Capitol while lawmakers participated from their homes.
The Legislative Service Office provided the committee members with electronic background images, including photos of meeting rooms in the newly renovated Capitol, to obscure their home surroundings.
Legislative Services Director Matt Olbrecht told the meeting that for a special session, a handful of legislative leaders could meet in person in Cheyenne with the rest of the House and Senate taking part by video conference.