Wyoming Liberty Group
Bills to hate and bills to love—this session had it all. With a large and growing budget deficit, the supplemental budget bill turned out better than expected. After the legislature bailed out Governor Mead’s deficit budget, it left a small budget surplus. However a large part of cash used to bail out the state’s deficit came from one-time funds. With dark clouds on the horizon for 2017-18, what might we expect for the next budget session?
Reviewing how government taxes and spends, with an eye to doing less of both, is a good idea. But how to go about it? One option reviewed by the Wyoming legislature would have created a review called Vision 2020, but its ambitions focused on issues other than living within the means of taxpayers. After breezing through the senate revenue and appropriations committees and passing 25 to 5 in the senate, the house revenue committee killed the Vision 2020 bill with a 6 to 3 no vote. Had the goals of the task force focused on bringing the size of government in line with its falling cash flow instead of acting as a cover for the governor’s apparent desire to stream more money into the raidable rainy day fund, perhaps the bill’s proponents would have had better luck.
Facing a state budget deficit, declining revenues and the desire to continue spending, Gov. Mead asked, “What constitutes a rainy day?” This thinly veiled call to raid the state’s rainy day account to fund his spending priorities was ignored by the legislature. Instead, the legislature began the search for more revenues by developing a task force called Vision 2020. But if the legislature keeps its focus on revenue mining instead of spending withdrawal, it is merely delaying the rainy day fund raid –or worse, it is leaving a legacy of debt and higher taxes to our children and grandchildren.
To spend, perchance to Dream of spending; Aye, there’s the rub.
Wyoming’s government is searching high and low for money for priorities, but just what is top of mind? The government is facing a $222 million budget deficit in the 2015-16 biennium but has money squirreled away in other accounts to contine spending, but on what? Just what are these other accounts? But even more important: why one priority and not another?
Wyoming’s Department of Transportation tells the sorry tale.
Courage is grace under pressure.
The Joint Appropriation Committee adroitly handled the $222 million deficit that now exists in the 2015-16 budget and Governor Mead’s $167 million request for additional spending. The JAC rejected a rainy day fund raid and reined in Gov. Mead’s spending blowout, leaving almost $300 million in spending where it belongs – contingent on actually receiving the funds. This is the first step in piercing Wyoming’s budget bloated by 10-years of now-evaporating mineral tax windfalls.
The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things. Wyoming’s Joint Appropriations Committee (JAC) is talking about a time for spending caution—but it must do more than hold steady. With falling oil prices and a rising deficit, the time has come to rein in government spending.
The JAC started to review Gov. Mead’s supplemental budget on January 21, 2015. JAC Chairman Senator Tony Ross set the tone when he said, “each and every budget item has a constituency, however there is not one dime we can spend here that isn’t one-time money. I am urging you to be cautious about what you spend and whether or not it is reoccurring because if it is—it will come back and double.”