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Myths Feed Hopes, Dreams and Spending Scams

Doublespeak (def) language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words.
     Wikipedia

Great minds have once again taken up an important question – should the state sanction the use of a mythical creature as a tourism ploy. Eye rolling aside, the term ploy also seems to apply to a new state bureaucracy, the Lottery Corporation. Turns out the revenue from the Lottery Corporation may be just as mythical as the jackalope.

But mythical animals and revenue aren’t the only myths jumping hoops at the Wyoming legislature. A more serious myth threatens the financial future of the state. The one-time spending myth, the idea that if government labels a spending initiative as one time it has no future spending implications, is nothing more than doublespeak. Its consequences will undoubtedly leave our children and grandchildren with a legacy of debt and higher taxes.

Former Wyoming Representative David Edwards was the first legislator to introduce legislation to name the jackalope Wyoming’s official mythical creature. Dan Zwonitzer has carried on the tradition this year and introduced HB066, but as in past years, this bill is unlikely to pass. Lottery supporters however, had better luck and finally convinced enough legislators that a lottery in Wyoming would provide revenue to cities, towns and counties, and in 2013, HB077 was passed to create the Lottery Corporation.

According to a Legislative Service Office fiscal note, the proposed lottery could generate revenues for local government handouts of between $5 million and $9 million per year. North Dakota, a state with a similar population and lottery type, brings in about $6 million per year and that $6 million stuck in the minds of the many as the near-term jackpot.

But cities, towns and counties may be waiting longer than expected for that windfall.

During a presentation to the Joint Revenue Committee on November 10, 2014, lottery CEO Jon Clontz said that due to a decision by the Lottery Commission, the debt it took out to start up operations would be paid off faster than originally planned. This, together with the addition of new games mean any money distributed to cities, towns and counties would be delayed.

Mr. Clontz explained it would take another 16 to 22 months before the state would see any revenue from the Lottery Corporation.

No doubt in response to this, legislators introduced a bill (HB0081) extending the date that would give cities, counties and towns the first $6 million in lottery profits, from 2019 to 2022. That is, should any money leave the land of myth and enter the land of reality.

But these myths are side attractions when compared to the one-time spending myth.

Like a broken record, spending claims disguised as one time go on and on. In the 2015 supplemental budget, Gov. Mead said, “I recommend some one-time expenditures which do not add to future budgets. For example, I recommend … funding for UW science initiatives.”

Phase 1 of the UW science initiative is expected to cost $103 million in one-time construction and planning costs. But wait! It will need $5.41 million every year in recurring expenses for programs. In other words, although $103 million in construction costs might be one time, the recurring expenses, by definition, will recur ever year into the future. How can anyone claim that if you build it, it won’t add costs to future budgets?

Of course building a new government building will add to future budgets – they will be filled with people who earn state-funded salaries and pensions, and will have heating and lighting costs. To say that a building is a one-time expense is nothing but doublespeak.

But it’s not just ongoing salary, benefit and utility expenses. These buildings need maintenance. Gov. Mead admitted this science initiative is creating buildings with higher maintenance costs and so recommended an additional $375,000 for more staff, operations and maintenance and $175,000 to ‘support’ equipment, which one assumes means maintain

Rep. Steve Harshman put the point quite plainly when, during the discussion of the contingency fund for yet more new buildings at the University of Wyoming, he said once these buildings are built, they are on “the major maintenance dole forever.”

Creating myths works as a ploy for many things in government, and it is time to recognize the one-time spending myth for what it is — a scam. Wyoming’s fiscal reality means it is time for a reality check, and the ongoing costs of buildings is the first thing that needs a dose of reality.

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Monday, 24 July 2017
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