Well folks, the Wyoming Legislature is currently in the process of amending the Supplemental budget. German statesman Otto von Bismarck said “laws are like sausage, it is better not to see them being made.” He wasn’t far from the mark. Budget bills are laws, even if they are only temporary, and drafting them is a terribly messy process. But anyone paying attention to the long and tedious process of debating through 72 budget amendments in one day will also receive a lesson in perseverance.
On Wednesday the Wyoming House and the Wyoming Senate went through second reading of separate versions of the Supplemental Budget bill (see the Senate or the House versions). Second reading of the budget bill is where things begin to get tricky for anyone trying to track changes made in the budget and work towards fiscal sanity.
The House had 43 second reading amendments containing multiple changes to the budget. And while that may seem a large amount of amendments, keep in mind that in 2012 there were 48 second reading amendments on the biennial budget bill. The number may be daunting, but it’s what is found inside the amendments that truly matters. So inside these amendments at worst, the House could have added $11.8M to the budget along with 4 new full-time state employee positions. At best, the amendments could have potentially decreased the budget by $79M. The Senate had 29 second reading amendments containing multiple fiscal changes to the budget with a potential increase of $4.9M to the budget and 3 new full-time state employee positions as well as a potential $8.3M decrease to the budget. Confused yet?
Our form of republican government gives us 60 people in the state House and 30 people in the state Senate who are all participating in the discussion and who all have different—sometimes very different—ideas over whether a budget should grow or shrink and where that should happen. This is only partly why budgets are messy.
For the practiced eye, second reading of the budget bill can be a time to identify emerging patterns of thought and direction. The biggest pattern this year is best described as getting prepared. The state is in flux and continuing to get prepared for multiple future threats – from looming fiscal cliffs to the crippling economic realities of Obamacare.
A top concern is the continuing fiscal decline in Wyoming’s energy sector. Many amendments attempted to change energy revenue flows going into state coffers. Some suggest holding revenues longer in accounts that -you can make up your mind - can either be easily accessed, or in accounts that aren’t so easy to access. Which is the government’s equivalent of putting the piggy jar on a high shelf. So far on second reading, the marauders were defeated.
After all the dust settled, the House adopted $2.6M in increases to the budget and 4 new full-time state employee positions, and no decreases. While the Senate adopted $1.4M in increases to the budget and 3 new full-time state employees, and $236,364 in decreases. To anyone who has watched the budget over the years, this has been a very restrained year for budget amendments. It appears that even lawmakers may be seeing the dire fiscal future and coming up with various schemes to try to weather it.
Today we start all over again and see another slew of amendments on third reading. So, stay tuned, the sausage-making continues.