Wyoming’s economy is in a tough spot. Families and businesses are feeling it. So is government. Balancing demands and needs with dwindling resources is a tough job.
Last month Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead delivered to the Legislature his spending plan for the next two years.
In the current year, the governor cut more than $160 million in the state’s budget. But, the rate of decay in our fortunes is such that it was not enough. For the upcoming two years, what is called the “standard budget” for state government is $3.03 billion. A cut of $18.8 million was proposed, or six-tenths of a percent.
To offset revenue losses, the budget borrows from savings — to be replaced by money that would otherwise be saved in the Permanent Mineral Trust. Some feel there should not be any additions to savings right now. Others feel we should cut more and look less to the piggy bank.
The budget does not present a clear answer on what is a looming crisis in education funding. In fairness, nobody has that answer yet. There was a call by a legislative leader for tax increases to help fund schools. That is not something I support.
In my view, stronger medicine is needed and the Legislature should lead by example. This is a poor time for the Legislature to continue with the $300 million Capitol renovation. I hope the project can be scaled down to just patch what needs to be patched for now.
Since the Governor presented his budget, the Joint Appropriations Committee of the Legislature has weighed in with their own views. The state had a windfall with millions of dollars of Abandoned Mine Land money from the federal government. The Governor, in a budget amendment letter, asked that an extra $33 million go to local government, amongst other things. JAC declined the local government request, and spent much of the AML money in areas of its own choosing.
JAC cut the governor’s request for Medicaid expansion, highways, nursing homes and early childhood education. JAC approved millions in additional funding for UW, including for athletics. I am a proud Cowboy Joe. I am still scratching my head, though, when there are so many other needs.
JAC cut the governor’s budget for state agencies in other areas as well, requiring some departments to cut 1 percent this year and 2 percent next year.
I agree with the idea that spending, in all departments, Legislature included, should be pulled back by low single digits over a period of years, to avoid more drastic medicine in years ahead if the economy doesn’t rebound.
There is plenty of room to reduce all budgets without unduly burdening true priorities like education, roads, local government services, water development, predator control or fulfilling our obligations to our veterans and seniors.
The Legislature will convene Feb. 8 for a 20-day budget session. I am new at this, uncertain as what to expect. I am hopeful, however, that we can get to a budget that charts a path to a sustainable future for Wyoming.
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 307-751-6428.