State treasurer visits Evanston

Wyoming Treasurer Curt Meier speaks at a public event Monday, Aug. 12, at the Strand Theatre in Evanston. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — Wyoming State Treasurer Curtis Meier was in Evanston on Monday, Aug. 12, to give a presentation on Wyoming’s financial health. The event was held at the historic Strand Theatre at 6 pm. 

Evanston Chamber of Commerce Director Tammy Halliday introduced Jackson Parker, political campaign aide to Meier, who gave a brief history of Treasurer Meier’s background and introduced him to the audience.

Meier used slide show as he discussed the State Treasurer’s organizational chart, functions of his office, management breakdown with roles and responsibilities, his office’s budget and accounting, asset allocations, investments, and unclaimed properties.

“In 2017, assets had not been accounted for,” Meier said. “It was an accounting nightmare. Since I took office, I have been implementing new procedures and using investment professionals. We are tracking all asset allocations, using low risk portfolios with higher benefits.”

Personnel in the Treasurer’s Office include Deputy State Treasurer Dawn Williams, a general counsel, house counsel and a senior policy advisor. Four divisions managed by the treasurer and deputy treasurer include finance and accounting, investments, administrative services, and unclaimed property.

The total amount in the treasurer’s budget is $65,140,226 with $4,211,318 of that amount in the general fund and the balance of $60,928,908 as investment income.

Other programs administered by the treasurer include WyoStar— investments on behalf of local governments, Native American motor vehicle exemption and the veterans tax exemption. 

Meier said he has clearly defined roles and responsibilities for the Investment Division, which is comprised of a chief investment officer and three senior investment officers, a senior investment analyst and two other investment. Those duties include management of internal fixed income portfolio, risk and investment strategy, equities portfolio management, compliance and other directives. 

In the financial accounting office, there is an administrator, four principal accountants and four accounting analysts. They handle all investments, audits, payments and receipts, bank balancing, fraud management and other duties.

“We made money in investment funds this year,” Meier said. “The market value of all investments is over $21 million. In the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account (LSRA), we have a balance of $1.5 billion.”

The LSRA, commonly known as the rainy day fund used to fill funding gaps or other state expenses, is directed by law to be invested as follows: $500 million in short-term investments, $500 million in intermediate investments, and $500 million in long-term investments.

Meier addressed the new laws passed by the 2019 Wyoming Legislature that affect his office. Those five laws 1) authorize the state construction department to be able to borrow up to $9 million for planning and constructing a skilled nursing facility for veterans; 2) permit the state treasurer and the Wyoming retirement system to implement and administer a performance compensation plan for specified at-will investment employees; 3) require pari-mutuel event permittees to pay 0.25% of the total amount wagered on gaming machines to be credited to the LSRA; 4) provide $8 million in federal mineral royalties to a student housing account for the University of Wyoming, with a commensurate decrease in UW’s standard budget request; and 5) put the LSRA into its own investment pool.

Statistics regarding the state’s budget shortfall did not include capital gains for 2019-20, which Meier speculated could increase. He did show an estimated 20% decline in total operating revenues for the fiscal years from 2013-14 to 2017-18. From 2017-18 to 2019-20, legislative appropriations were reduced by approximately $566 million.

“In 2017, there was $3,070,000 in personal taxes paid and the cost of public services was $27,600,000,” Meier said. “For every one dollar paid in taxes, a family of 3 with an income of $60,000 and a $200,000 home receives $9 in public services.”

Meier reminded the audience that the state has $85 million in unclaimed property and if they want to check if they have any money owed to them they just need to visit www.mycash.wyo.gov. 

“This is money from uncashed checks, mineral royalties, insurance payouts, bank accounts, utility deposits, and lost wages,” Meier said. “Last year the state had $8 million in unclaimed properties and approximately 85% was returned to the businesses.”

Meier concluded his presentation by responding to questions from the audience. 

State Sen. Wendy Schuler asked if Meier had any ideas for solving the education shortfall.

Meier responded, “I think we need to get more creative with economic development. How can we add value to what we already have and do? For example, it might be more economical to build a coal smelting plant here rather than sending our coal to China.”

Someone asked if the state is requiring reclamation fees when plants are closed, and Meier answered by saying that the governor and the legislature need more discussion on that matter. 

Other questions concerned digital currency, types of investments, wind energy, the Hathaway Scholarship, and concerns regarding the spending of taxpayer money on the Wyoming State Capitol project. Meier emphasized economic accountability in all matters, investing wisely, and developing protocol in response to areas of concern. 

One concern from an audience member concerned the Wyoming retirement system and if it will still be available for future retirees. 

“We had a 20 to 25% drop last year, but we are doing a better job of managing it now. We are getting close to having 75% in equities.” Meier said.

In discussing the Wyoming State Capitol renovation lawsuit in a private meeting with the Herald, Meier said that the court had dismissed the litigation with prejudice. Meier instructed his office to send a copy of the settlement agreement document to the Herald. 

In that document, the parties — now listed as Meier vs. State, filed in the District Court for the First Judicial District in Wyoming — agree to the dismissal of litigation with prejudice.

“The parties hereto wish to finally settle and resolve the pending litigation and create a process for identification of contracts subject to approval under the provisions of WYO. CONST., Art. 3 & 31, and for approval of such contracts,” court documents state. “Mutual cooperation: The parties agree to cooperate fully to execute all such documents necessary to effectuate the intent and purpose of this Settlement Agreement, including but not limited to documents necessary to cause the dismissal, with prejudice, of the pending litigation.”

“In other words,” Meier said, “the parties agree that things should have been done according to the State Constitution and it should be done that way in the future. The project is nearly 95% complete, so I won’t have much involvement with many change orders which have already been signed off on.”

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