Wyoming’s budget is in crisis. Two-thirds of our revenue comes from three sources: oil, gas and coal. When these three industries suffer, so does the state’s tax revenue. The upcoming two-year budget cycle is projected to be in deficit. Estimates vary from $600 million to $900 million, with more than half of the shortfall in K-12 education.
Over half of the state’s budget funds three areas: education, health care (principally Medicaid) and the prison system.
It’s impossible to balance the state budget without impacting these three areas.
The Legislature meets for no more than 60 days every two years. In odd numbered years it is a 40-day general session, to consider any topic.
Even-numbered years, like 2018, are 20-day budget sessions. Non-budget bills can be introduced only by a two-thirds vote.
Notwithstanding that high hurdle, dozens of non-budget bills have so far been successfully introduced.
Over the last several years, state budgets have been cut severely. Some programs have been cut by half or more — and others have been wiped out entirely.
In education spending, the Legislature labors under the threat of a lawsuit alleging spending reductions are unconstitutional. Education reductions total 4.8 percent over the last three years.
This year, the session will be a balancing act between making more cuts, pulling funding out of savings, tax increases and diversions.
Government grew during the last boom. There are reservations about new taxes until every reasonable attempt has been made to reduce the size and scope of government.
Savings will only last so long, less than a half dozen year at the current rate of spending. “Diversions” means spending money that otherwise would go to keeping our permanent funds inflation-proof. Neither of these steps is a long-term solution.
For now, it appears a sizeable portion of the gap will be covered by one-time revenues, such as stock market gains. Better to be lucky than smart, but betting on more windfalls in the future is not a long-term fix, either.
Whatever the answer, we have 20 days to come up with it. Failing that, the Legislature will be called into a special session, something that has rarely happened in Wyoming history.
Its important to keep it all in perspective. Even with reductions, this state still spends far more per capita than most. Our economy is on the mend. And we live in a great place to call home.
If you have any comments or concerns, I welcome them. I am not able to reply to all emails, but all will be read and considered.
Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, represents Wyoming Senate District 22 which consists of Johnson County and eastern Sheridan county. A businessperson and former mayor of Sheridan, Kinskey can be reached at Dave.Kinskey@WyoLeg.gov or (307) 751-6428.