Wyoming Liberty Group
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.”
Like the beautiful voices of the Sirens of Greek mythology, large savings accounts are luring Wyoming’s ship of state to fiscal doom. The deficit in Wyoming’s traditional spending accounts has increased from a relatively miniscule $4.4 million to a whopping $217 million, for a total deficit of $222 million in Wyoming’s 2015-16 biennium budget.
Has this deficit motivated Gov. Mead to call for lower spending? No. Instead of asking agencies to tighten their belts, or even reducing his own additional spending request of $156 million, the governor upped his supplemental by almost $10 million, leaving the state in a deficit position of $389 million for the biennium.
Today Tuesday the House will hold its second reading of HB75, the Compact for a Balanced Budget bill that proposes a debt-limitation balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Yesterday's first reading included a vigorous debate, demonstrating that this is an issue the members of the House take very seriously. The vote, 35-23, also shows that while the idea of a balanced budget amendment is accepted in principle, there is still some hesitation as to whether or not the Compact is the right way to go.
An early warning signal started blinking back in October 2014 to alert Wyomingites about the effect of falling minerals prices on the state budget. The blinking has now turned into a frenetic flashing. The October revenue shortfall of $4.4 million for the 2015-16 budget now sits at $222 million. As a result, legislators must not only reject new spending that would add to this deficit, they must cut the current budgets of state agencies.
Although many people seem to believe Wyoming’s two-year budget cycle means the off-budget year is a non-budget year, this is not strictly true.
According to the Wyoming Constitution:
The legislature shall meet on odd-numbered years for a general and budget session. The legislature may meet on even-numbered years for budget session.
Gov. Mead’s 2015 supplemental budget request includes raiding $21.2 million from the rainy day fund to build passing lanes on Highway 59 between Douglas and Gillette. He justifies this by saying, “nearly twice as many people died on Wyoming highways in 2014 compared to 2013.”
Dying in a car crash is terrible, but while spending more money on roads will allow the governor to appear to be doing something, it is unlikely to make much of a dent in highway fatalities.