Members of the House of Representatives converse in the waning hours of the May 2020 special session. (Andrew Graham/WyoFile)

Wyoming received the first $500 million installment of its billion-dollar share of American Rescue Plan funds last week, setting the stage for a July special legislative session dedicated to appropriating the money.

Now, the state’s elected officials just have to figure out how to spend it. 

Gov. Mark Gordon has announced his priorities for the funds — health and social services, education and workforce and economic diversity and development efforts. Despite that, lawmakers and Gordon’s cabinet still need to fully understand federal guidance around how those dollars can be used, and agree on how best to spend them.

“[The governor] talks to lawmakers a lot,” Renny Mackay, Gordon’s policy advisor, said. “As the guidance comes out, we’ll dive more into what’s possible and what is not.”

Those challenges will be manifest. Unlike most states, Wyoming’s tax revenues have in the first five months of 2021 failed to recover from the damage of last year’s COVID-19 pandemic, according to April projections from the state’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Group. The economies of major metros like Casper have also been slow to rebound to pre-pandemic levels, according to state numbers, driven largely by an energy sector decline that hasn’t bounced back.

“We are going to be laser-focused on addressing Wyoming’s short and long-term recovery, and on getting people back to work,” Gordon said in a statement last week. “I want to ensure we use these dollars to thrive in the long-term, because this federal spending is increasing debt on our children and the generations to come. We must not squander this opportunity to invest wisely in our state’s future.”

Other pieces of legislation working their way through Congress — in particular, a massive infrastructure spending package and the American Families Plan — could have other, unanticipated impacts for Wyoming’s economy. However, the state’s current financials underscore structural challenges in Wyoming’s economy that federal spending alone cannot fix, according to legislative leadership.  

“There are certain sectors — energy, particularly — where there are just fewer jobs to go back to,” House Speaker Eric Barlow (R-Gillette) said.

COVID-relief funding will likely be targeted toward projects that stand to have long-lasting social and economic impacts, according to officials interviewed by WyoFile. However, short-term budgetary considerations will also demand attention. In the 2021 session, the Wyoming Legislature ratified hundreds of millions of dollars in spending cuts to everything from the state-level bureaucracies in Cheyenne to an adult group home in Gillette, leaving holes that may or may not be filled with ARP funds.

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The relationship between the broad cuts that were made this winter — along with large dollar amounts from 2020’s CARES Act that are still circulating in some parts of the economy — are still not fully understood, Mackay said.

“Some programs are getting a lot more money than they’re normally used to, both from the federal government and the state combined,” Mackay said. “How those overlap with programs that were cut or reduced is something we’re watching closely.”

Legislative leaders and the governor’s office will work together to develop a limited suite of legislation for July’s special session, Barlow said. That process, he said, will take time, and involve the input of more than just legislative leadership and Gordon’s office. It will also involve tough discussions about the proper uses for one-time dollars from the federal government, and how to begin the conversation of filling needs once those dollars run out.

This round of funding, Barlow noted, has fewer spending restrictions than CARES Act dollars did, and also lacks the one-year spend-down window requirement. That affords lawmakers greater flexibility in deciding where the funding goes, he said.

“We do have some ongoing, fundamental challenges,” Barlow said. “But we’re not limited on time. We hurried last year because we had until the end of the year [to spend CARES Act money] but now, we can really pace ourselves to do the meaningful things that really make a difference.” 

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  1. Put the money in the bank and add in all future Federal dollars due under the relief package. Do not add to the UW budget. Do not give it to State Employees i wages. Do not use it as incentive money for vaccinations.

    Do use it to develop affordable coal gasification technology in Wyoming. Do use it to re-create a strong Wyoming tourism industry. Do use it to assist ranchers to develop their properties to be both tourist locations and ranching operations.. Do allocate funds to smaller school districts in Counties where local taxation does not create enough revenue to compete with the big revenue Counties. Do get all the money the feds want to give away, rat hole lots of it and DO spend it on real items that will bring dollars into Wyoming and DON’t spend it on people as a welfare payment. There are jobs all over the western US go get one. Use the money to create more revenue. Be smart, think outside the box and get it done..

  2. The money will be used to join whatever asinine lawsuit pops up next about a “stolen” election or mass voter fraud claims.

    Then, the State will decide to hire more coal lobbyists that will do even less for the state than the ones we currently employ.

    Throw in another lawsuit or 4, that will be an attempt(s) to sue other states for not using enough wyoming coal.

    Better put aside some money for lawyers after the “powers ” that be pass the 2nd amendment sanctuary state. Lawsuits are just waiting to happen once that is passed.

    After that, they’ll approve wage increases for lawmakers and will find another remodel of the capitol as “necessary”.

    Then wyoming will be broke again.

  3. Well, if you are a Republican who believes the 500 million is going to burden your children forever why not just return the money?

  4. Since Capital hill is not giving any more stimulus……Why cant Wyoming help its residents,,,I know I sure could use it,

  5. Those darn Democrats just keep on helping the Wyoming Specials. I remember several news articles that insisted that Wyoming is better off with Republicans in control. I’d laugh if it wasn’t so sad. In almost all important categories,- health care, suicide, gender equality, etc.-Wyoming ranks very low. The Republicans have to own it.

  6. No doubt Wyoming republicans will send (the real) President a nice letter of appreciation for what he did for them. Don’t hold your breath on that one!

  7. Probably the smartest money that Wyoming could invest towards both economic development and infrastructure right now in one swoop it to go all in on Starlink internet service for rural Wyoming now that Elon Musk’s SpaceX satellite-based internet system has proven it works – spectacularly ! – after a yearlong testing regime, Wyoming should buy into it. The investment would pay dividends immediately.
    Starlink was created just for places like Wyoming . Our state’s 100,000 square miles of vaccuous geography, 3D terrain that challenges line-of-sight between wireless towers , and a low populationto sell to has always put Wyoming on the wrong side of the digital divide for anyone mot living in Cheyenne, Casper, Laramie, or possibly elitist Twton County. Everywhere else in Wyoming suffers from mediocre internet service , high prices, and pathetic availability ( or none ). Geographically speaking . most of Wyoming is a digital desert.

    There is no reason that can justify subsidizing the legacy providers like Century Link with their 20th century business model and anachronistic infrastructure. A mile of fiber optic cable can cost north of $ 25,000 to lay. A new cell tower can be way north of $ 250,000 . Providing broadband by cable or wire up alongside the 2-track dirt roads to log cabin hamlets simply does not pencil out … not without ridiculous amounts of direct subsidies that will never go away. The telecom corporations never really cared for Wyoming in the first place . Example: the former president of Qwest boasted he could make more money from one apartment complex or skyscraper in a metropolitan area than our entire state. And the Ma Bell Mafia went about proving that time and time again. Deregulation of the phone system in 1984 really disadvantaged rural states like Wyoming .The transition to the digital era made it worse for Wyoming. by and large. Giving the legacy providers more monopoly money makes no sense.

    A Starlink antenna and router cost $ 500 up front, and works right out of the box . Dead simple to set up and use…true plug and play. The dish is flat, 20 inches across and does not need to be aimed…. just point it at clear blue sky . Works fine in snow and rain. The service itself costs $ 100 a month . My friends who live in an internet Black Hole just 6 miles outside of Cody have Starlink , and it’s much faster with lower latency than my Spectrum cable service back in town. They currently get over 200 Mbps with < 30 milliseconds lag, compared to my 80 Mbps and 50 ms latency. Their upload ( outbound) speeds are far faster than my cable. My Century-Link DSL service two years ago seems like tin can and string now, and I was just 800 linear feet from the switchbank. . Once Starlink gets the other 2/3rds of thesir satellites to orbit, speeds might go as high as 1 gigabit per second and the latecy will go down to 5 ms ( instantaneous for all practical purposes). . Oh by the way, there is zero comparison of Starlink to previous satellite internet systems like Hughes or DirectTV or Dish. None… nada …zip. You can't compare Starlink to prior websat services any more than you can compare a hydrofoil racing boat to a Mississippi River grain barge.

    I would tell Governor Gordon, the Legislature, and the Wyoming Business Council to steer their nascent Wyoming Broadband Initiative straight at Starlink . Now. Use the pandemic money for that , first and foremost, to get out ahead of the wave for once. Every rural family , every ranch kid, all the country stores , tractor shops and McMansions on a hill can have world class internet without waiting for the easement lawyers and ditchwitch to plod up the driveway with ancient copper wire or cable. Especially the Wind River Reservation demographic situation . Starlink delivers the full promise of the internet , right out of the box. The legacy providers can't claim as much. It's time to quit subsidizing dinosaur tech and old business models.

    Wyoming, the pandemic grant smart money is on Starlink. Huge return on investment, right out of the box

  8. They’ll probably fritter it away on more welfare to the livestock farming crowd, the oil companies, or invest it in some sort of hi-jinks, like fake money. Remember, this is a state with a guvner (well, that’s his title anyway) that recently refused federal unemployment funds because it allowed people to make more on unemployment benefits than they made as slaves working for cheapskate Wyoming employers.