Budget: JAC Weighs In

Dave Kinskey (R-Senate District 22)

Seventy percent of Wyoming’s revenue comes from the energy industry which is currently in a slump that shows little sign of stopping soon.

In the current year, the Governor cut over $160 million in the state’s budget.  But, the rate of decay in our fortunes is such that it was not enough.  Millions more had to be cut.

At stake in the upcoming twenty-day budget session is the spending by the State of Wyoming for the next two years, referred to as a “biennium.”

Much debated is what should happen to the savings built up during the boom years?  It seems a foregone conclusion they will be tapped to some extent – but to what degree?  How much should come from spending cuts, how much from savings?

If we postpone cuts, we have enough savings to tide us over for a couple of years.  If the downturn persists beyond that, as seems more and more likely, what then?

Some projections indicated state revenues will slide by a quarter over the next 4 to 6 years.  I feel we should begin a wind down of spending by that amount or more.  But, others differ, feeling that projections can be wrong – and often are.

True, and I hope I am wrong about the duration of this slump going 5 years or more.  But, shouldn’t we plan for the worst and hope for the best?  If we deplete our reserves too soon, the picture gets even bleaker.

The top three categories of spending by the state are education, corrections and healthcare.  I am getting emails from anxious parents and teachers who read of the potential impact on their local schools.  I hope we can minimize or forestall education cuts, at least for this session.

Since the Governor presented his budget, the Joint Appropriations Committee (JAC) of the Legislature has weighed in with their own views.  The state had a windfall with millions of dollars of Abandoned Mine Land (AML) money from the federal government.  The Governor, in a budget amendment letter, asked that an extra $33 million go to local government, amongst other things.  JAC declined the local government request, and spent much of the AML money in areas of its own choosing.

JAC cut the Governor’s request for Medicaid expansion, highways, nursing homes and early childhood education.  Still in the budget: the multi-million dollar rebuild of the State Capitol.  I am still scratching my head on that one.

JAC cut the Governor’s budget for state agencies in other areas as well, requiring some departments to cut 1 percent this year and 2 percent next year.

The need is to wind down spending more heavily in lesser priority areas to leave enough to avoid unduly burdening needs like education, roads, local government services, water development, predator control or fulfilling our obligations to our veterans and seniors.

The Legislature will convene February 8 for a twenty day budget session.  I am new at this, uncertain as what to expect.  My first introduction to the state budget process is how to deal with the bust we all knew would come someday.  Someday is here.

Dave Kinskey represents Wyoming Senate District 22, consisting of Johnson County and eastern Sheridan County.  A businessperson, Kinskey is the former Mayor of Sheridan.  He can be reached at Dave.Kinskey@WyoLeg.gov or by phone at 307-751-6428.

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