Citing falling revenues, governor favors looking at savings and revisiting Medicaid expansion



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CHEYENNE, Wyoming — Citing falling oil and coal revenues, Gov. Matt Mead said it is time to look at tapping into Wyoming's rainy day fund and revisit whether the state should expand the federal Medicaid program.

Mead said Wednesday that he didn't believe the state needs to consider raising or imposing new taxes.

"I don't think that's necessary at this time because of the savings that we have improved over the last four plus years," he said.

Wyoming is the nation's leading coal producer and gets significant revenue from coal, natural gas and oil extraction.

But state forecasters have projected federal mineral revenue will likely fall from just over $1 billion last year to about $688 million in 2020.

Mead has blamed tighter federal air quality standards and other restrictions for reducing demand for Wyoming coal. His administration has launched several lawsuits challenging federal standards and is pushing to try to get access to ports in the Northwest to allow coal exports to Asia.

Mead is preparing a budget that he will submit later this year to the state Legislature, which convenes a budget session next February.

The state has various savings accounts, including roughly $1.8 billion in its "rainy day fund" as of January. The fund has grown during Mead's term as governor, but because of the state's financial situation "we are going to, out of necessity, have to look at rainy day funds this session," Mead said.

"I think that's an appropriate discussion now because certainly at the county and local level they believe it's raining," Mead said.

Mead said local government officials have voiced concern to him about facing budget cuts of up to 50 percent because of falling tax revenue.

State government has adequate revenue to fund its daily operations, but not for items such as tourism advertising and local government aid, he said.

Mead said he doesn't believe cutting more from state government is the answer because residents have complained about reduced services from previous cuts and any more savings from cuts wouldn't be sufficient unless whole agencies are eliminated.

Last year, state lawmakers rejected expanding the Medicaid programs and more than $100 million a year in federal funding that would have extended health insurance coverage to 17,600 low-income adults. Many lawmakers said they don't trust federal promises to continue Medicaid funding.

Mead had favored expanding Medicaid.

He said Wednesday the issue should be looked at again.

"So aside from the health benefits to our citizens with regard to Medicaid expansion, we are now in a budgetary situation where I think it's appropriate again to look at it as we're looking for revenue to support exceptional requests that are critical for the functioning of this state," Mead said.

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