- The Game and Fish Department
“When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more, nor less.”
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass
While the budgets of some Wyoming government agencies are complicated, the budgets of others are positively mazelike. So when different people talk about budgets, they are often talking about different things. This makes the talk about budget cuts like a trip through the looking glass into a world where words mean whatever people want them to mean.
The Game and Fish Department is a good example.
According to this department’s narrative in their 2013-14 Individual Agency Budget Request, it “operates with a FY 2012 annual commission budget of $71.5 million and $9.9 [million] legislatively appropriated general fund biennial budget….” This indicates that the department’s total budget in Fiscal Year 2012 is about $77 million.
The department is recommending an eight percent budget cut of $349,428, but eight percent of $77 million is about $6.2 million, nowhere near $349,428. How did the Game and Fish Department arrive at $349,428?
Simple. Agencies don’t have to cut their budgets. They have to cut eight percent from their 2014 general fund appropriation. The Game and Fish Department’s 2013-2014 biennial budget is about $9.8 million. This comes almost entirely from the general fund. The general fund part gets cut in half and one-time funding of $302,367 gets taken out and we get $4,367,852. This is their 2014 general fund appropriation. Multiply that by eight percent and voila! We get $349,428, which is only 3.9% of $9.8 million.
To put this into perspective, in terms of their entire budget, at least for 2012, it is less than one percent.
How to explain this mystery tour through the looking glass?
When the Legislative Services office (the staff office of the legislature) and the Joint Appropriations Committee talk about the state budget they are talking about agency budget requests included in the scope of the Governor and the Legislature in the budget process.
This scope includes all state agencies except the maintenance and operations budget of the Department of Transportation and – wait for it – Game and Fish! Not everything, including most Game and Fish appropriations it seems, comes under the review of the Governor and Legislature during the budgeting process.
Even though the Governor and Legislature have no input into this budget and therefore, the department’s spending, taxpayers still have to pay for it. According to the Legislative Service Office,
While those appropriations and revenue streams definitely result in the expenditure of state funds and are a major part of the overall state fiscal picture, they do not come under the direct budget review of the Governor or the Joint Appropriations Committee, thus the appropriations, expenditures, and revenue flows associated with these programs are not included in some of the discussion of the state “budget.” This “arrangement” is not a subjective decision made by the Governor or the Joint Appropriations Committee, but rather is dictated by statute.
How do we ensure the Governor, the Legislature, and not to mention, the citizens of Wyoming, control the entire budgeting process? Seems K-12 education was also excluded from the budget but the Budget Modifications Act of 1993 brought it back into the purview of the Governor and Legislature. Perhaps it is time for a new Budget Modification Act to ensure all the money extracted from peoples’ pockets is included in the budgeting process for review by our elected representatives. It’s time to make government accountable to the citizens who are forced to fund its activities.
When bureaucrats and other special interest groups go on and on about how an eight percent budget cut is cutting their programs to the bone, they are often, to put it nicely, being somewhat disingenuous. The budget isn’t being cut by eight percent; only a portion (and a very small portion in some cases) of the general fund appropriation for 2014 is being cut by eight percent. It’s time to come back through the looking glass into the real world and make the budgeting process transparent and accountable to the citizens of Wyoming.