The 2013 General Session of the Wyoming Legislature winds down this week. Today is the final day for third reading of bills, marking the end of floor work and the beginning of a long and boring wait for lawmakers. The usual end-of-the-session lag of conference committee reports and concurrence votes signify the last hours of work before the session is adjourned, our part-time legislators spill out to head home, and the House and Senate chambers sit empty once again.
So what was accomplished this year? While it might take some time for many of us to fully answer that question, House and Senate leadership are currently working frantically to shape a coherent message, usually given right before the gavel falls on the day of adjournment, regarding what they believe they accomplished over these past 40 days. In hindsight, their message may be very different from what many in Wyoming believe were the highlights and low lights of the 62nd Wyoming Legislature.
From a fiscal standpoint, Wyoming’s state budget grew with this year’s supplemental budget bill, perhaps by a smaller percent than in the past, but grow it did. The current state fiscal profile shows overall general fund spending increases of 3.38% going from $3,218,475,371 to $3,327,203,233; these numbers include the executive branch budget cuts of $61M and the judiciary branch budget cuts of $662K.
Total supplemental spending increases asked for and received by the executive branch totaled $140M, while the judiciary branch asked for and received a total increase of $60K. The Wyoming Legislature spent around $6M on various bills and initiatives, including money for municipal solid waste facilities, money to continue studying the implementation of a health exchange in Wyoming, and money to relocate bighorn sheep, just to list a few.
School spending also increased but by a smaller percentage. The School Foundation Program account appropriation grew around 1% for a total of $1.6B in overall education spending. The 2013 increase was around $16M and will be spent on various programs including the Statewide Longitudinal Data System and the Wyoming Equality Network.
School construction however, saw a much more significant increase, nearly doubling from the 2012 appropriated amount. School capital construction spending increased by $209M, for a total two-year appropriation of $740M; these dollars will be used to continue the ever growing number of new school buildings being built in Wyoming.
So what does this mean for the citizens of Wyoming? Well, in a macro sense it means that government spending continues to increase. From a micro sense, spending increases are beginning to slow down and stop in places, and reductions have happened, albeit small. For some, this new progress may seem infinitesimal in scale and their frustrations will grow as they watch government continue to expand into Wyoming’s already struggling private sector. A recent piece by Sven Larson points out Wyoming’s economy has the worst GDP growth record of any state in the Union for the 2009-11 period.
Governor Mead waded into this discussion, perhaps peripherally, when he vetoed the Legislature’s call for continued 4, 6 and 8% budget reduction plans for all state agencies. Mead’s explanation was simple – the state should wait to see what kind of revenues it will have to spend before deciding if further budget reductions are needed.
In other words, Governor Mead has embraced the idea that government growth should be dictated by the amount of revenues the state has to spend. This perspective could mean the end of the current micro trend of reductions in the growth of Wyoming’s government and a renewed dedication to spending every dime on the table - should revenue forecasts reveal yet another cash windfall in the form of un-profiled capital gains coming off the PWMTF for the state – which some are already predicting. That’s good news for those who want government to continue to grow into every nook and cranny of our lives, and bad news for Wyoming’s citizens and our private sector economy.