Green River Star -

Our view: Rainy day fund not for athletics

 


While the state’s cities, towns and counties have dealt with an economic downturn for the past several years, it seems the tone of the issues that may open up the state’s rainy day fund isn’t funding problems experienced by municipal and county governments; it’s a question if the state will support the University of Wyoming’s athletics department.

The Casper Star Tribune reported last week that Gov. Matt Mead is considering using the state’s rainy day fund to provide $5 million in matching funds from donations made to the school. The Star Tribune reports the state is matching funds donated to the university’s athletics booster club throughout the 2015-2016 fiscal year, which started July 1 and ends June 30 next year.

While we’re fans of the Cowboys and support what the University does, the idea that the rainy day fund is being considered for athletic spending shows the state, at very least, has its priorities skewed.

For years, many communities across the state have experienced decreases in their sales-tax revenue as a result of the economic downturn affecting the entire state. Even before the economy slowed, energy-rich counties like Sweetwater County were forced to deal with impacts made on local infrastructure from the booming oil and gas industry. Leaders from those communities have lobbied the state for years for additional funds to mitigate those impacts. Sweetwater County was eventually forced to enact a specific purpose tax, often referred to as the sixth-penny tax, to improve its infrastructure while the state continued to receive hundreds of millions from the mineral wealth found both here and in Sublette County.

The fund totals $1.8 billion and admittedly $5 million is a small drop in that bucket, especially since the state anticipates using the fund for other requests. However, this isn’t the first time money that would be better used in other places was diverted to the university. Millions from federal Abandon Mine Lands funds were diverted to the university from their intended purpose of reclaiming undermined locations throughout the state.

We understand the importance the University of Wyoming has as the state’s only university, as well as the state’s commitment to fund it. Yet, it seems somewhat strange that the state would put a desire to match $5 million in donations on the same pedestal of funding state departments and local governments during an economic downturn. A university’s athletics program is more of a want, not a need for an educational institution and it’s time the state’s lawmakers realize that.

 

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