Recently, one of the Wyoming Senate’s leaders suggested the Revenue Committee, of which I am a member, should sponsor legislation to raise taxes. I am opposed to doing so.
The state of Wyoming has a spending problem. It must be controlled before there can be any contemplation of tax hikes.
Just days ago, we received a graph showing the history of Wyoming’s tax receipts and expenditures from the 1990s to the present. Year in and year out, as revenues rose, so did spending. In classic fashion, government budgets grew in proportion to the amount of money available to spend.
With energy prices down, and Washington’s War on Coal in full swing, Wyoming’s boom economy is in jeopardy. Budgets must be trimmed. Businesses and families have to do so — and so must government.
There are projections that state revenues will decline overall by 25 percent over the next four to six years. We must walk down the size of government by a quarter — at a minimum — over that period of time. If we start now it will be difficult, but not as hard as it will be if we postpone the inevitable.
Folks I know in state and local government are expecting cuts. The longer it takes for the shoe to drop, the tougher it is on everyone.
As of the date of this writing, we await the governor’s budget. I hope he will propose a wind down in spending — and that his earlier talk of tapping savings will be placed in the context of doing so minimally, and only as part of a determined effort to trim the size and growth of government.
In the last legislative session, hundreds of millions of dollars in spending was approved betting on a buoyant stock market. Millions were committed to a remodel of the State Capitol. I and others opposed both, unsuccessfully. I hope the governor’s budget will revisit both of those decisions.
In my business career I learned that leadership often means making tough calls. It was a lesson reinforced as a small town mayor. The pressures to tax and spend are enormous and it takes political will and conservative conviction to successfully resist them. Pain is never politically popular.
It falls to the executive branch to lead the charge on spending. Agencies can be directed to submit multi-year budgets with low, single-digit cuts. Over time, it adds up to the needed total, but with less disruption than larger, sudden reductions. That order should come coupled with the caution that cuts should not be to necessary long-term needs like maintenance.
We can hope this downturn is short-lived.
If the energy economy rebounds, we should nonetheless continue on a course of fiscal restraint. Government has the means to properly fund priority needs like education, water development, helping vulnerable seniors, local government, roads or honoring our commitments to our veterans — without resort to raising taxes
Dave Kinskey represents Wyoming Senate District 22, consisting of Johnson County and eastern Sheridan County. A businessperson, Kinskey is the former mayor of Sheridan. He can be reached at Dave.Kinskey@WyoLeg.gov or by phone at 751-6428.