Sometimes, the most important conversation is the one that never takes place. Today the Joint Appropriations Committee proved that in abundance.
After a morning devoted mostly to Fish and Game, the committee finally got around to a conversation with the state treasurer. This conversation had been delayed since Monday afternoon when the governor was the committee’s guest of honor. State Treasurer Meyer is almost as important a guest as the governor, so this was indeed a moment to look forward to.
The Wyoming economy, in many ways, is in limbo. Our businesses are growing tepidly – in September there were only 3,700 more jobs in the private sector compared to a year earlier – while our state and local governments are stuffed to the brim with employees (318 per 1,000 private employees, by far the highest of any state in the union). The latest CREG report issued a flat revenue forecast for the state. You would expect that the Joint Appropriations Committee would have made time to discuss policy strategies with the state’s top fiscal administrator. It would have been a logical sequel to Monday’s meeting when Governor Mead laid down a pretty compelling fiscal gauntlet.
Unfortunately, though predictably, no such discussion took place. The committee that is charged with presenting a state budget to the legislature instead spent a good two hours discussing the state’s investment strategies for its funds. Committee chairman Senator Nicholas exchanged multiple detailed comments with representatives for the Treasurer’s office on how much it costs the state to invest its considerable capital.
Such questions are of course important. Wyoming has billions of dollars in financial assets thanks to severance taxes and many years of shrewd and dedicated investments. However, quite frankly, so long as these funds are not being put to work for the direct benefit of Wyoming’s hard working, and often struggling middle class families, the committee’s use of its time shows a less than stellar ability to prioritize.
There are numerous pressing economic policy issues knocking at the state legislature’s doors, such as:
- Our state GDP is more volatile and, on average, growing more slowly than neighboring states;
- We have the nation’s worst public-to-private employment ratio and it is getting worse;
- Wyoming recently lost its ranking as having the nation’s best tax climate;
- In terms of business friendliness we are now in the bottom third among the 50 states.
This list can easily be made longer. Since the Joint Appropriations Committee is the closest thing the state legislature has to an economic policy committee, it would make sense that the committee spent at least as much time discussing economic policy strategies as it does discussing how to further grow its financial wealth.
Hopefully, some of these issues will be on the agenda on Thursday when it is the Department of Revenue’s turn to present its budget request.