- Wyoming Secretary of State
Reluctant def: unwilling; disinclined; a reluctant candidate
One clever way for a state agency to avoid the budget axe when pleading its case before a legislative committee is to invoke statutory mandates.
Such was the case with Wyoming’s Deputy Secretary of State Patricia O’Brien Arp, who told inquisitive members of the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Interim Committee in August, that her office “cannot cut any programs, as they are statutorily mandated,” and tinkering with funding for those programs could compromise quality.
As a result, Arp offered precious few budget items to put on the chopping block – one lawyer, and funding for publications and computer program maintenance.
With natural gas revenues in a slump earlier this year, Gov. Matt Mead requested state departments cut their 2014 budgets by as much as 8 percent, and this summer agencies submitted proposed reductions. To a casual observer, the call for cuts sounded like tough medicine; while advocates of smaller government welcomed the proposal.
The Secretary of State, called the record keeper of Wyoming, registers the state’s businesses, and oversees elections and securities trading, among many other duties, it is governed by about four dozen state statutes.
The agency’s total budget is $7.9 million, and 8 percent of that amounts to $632,000. But only an unsheltered portion of the $3.3 million general fund appropriation for 2014 is on the fiscal firing line. And even with planned “cuts,” the agency’s 2013-2014 budget will grow by 8.6 percent.
In her letter to the governor, Arp reluctantly offered cuts “the Secretary of State does not endorse” that would terminate the office’s attorney ($121,009 salary), forego funding to publish state government directories and Wyoming Constitution ($15,000) and maintenance money for computer programs ($124,037).
This would chop $260,046, which is nearly 8 percent of the $3.3 million one-year appropriation – but only 3.3 percent of the department’s entire budget. So when one considers the department’s current two-year budget is projected to increase about $661,000 from the previous biennium, it’s difficult to be sympathetic about the agency’s supposed fiscal plight.
Though the joint committee voted to accept the proposed reductions, the legislature could restore the funding to publish the directory and Constitution as lawmakers did in 2010.
And considering the Deputy Secretary’s “strong plea that the Governor and Legislature not take the attorney position,” it’s possible even the lawyer might be spared. After all, the attorney designated “number 0027” is “doing a good job.”
If the axed funding is restored, the Secretary of State’s budget would go unscathed and cost taxpayers more than its 2011-2012 biennium budget. If the planned reductions hold, that merely trims the department’s spending growth. So despite the hand wringing over meeting the governor’s budget cut request, this government agency’s spending continues to go up.
But then government always seems to grow larger and costlier with time doesn’t it? Will things ever change?
Incidentally, by finishing up hearings a day early, the joint committee was able to cancel its Friday hearing schedule, thus “saving” about $8,000, according to one committee member’s “conservative estimate,” given that state government would not paying the additional expense of keeping out-of-town legislators in Cheyenne another day.
Now wouldn’t it be nice if this savings were passed on to the taxpayers before Wyoming lawmakers find somewhere else to spend the money?