Column: Budgets Abound in Wyoming’s 66th Legislature | Columnists
In 1889, Wyoming voters adopted the Constitution that Wyoming still has today. Wyoming is one of less than 20 states that have the same Constitution from the date of admission until today.
It was also the first United States Constitution to recognize women’s right to vote.
Originally, the Legislative Body could only meet for a maximum of 40 working days “at the seat of government at noon on the second Tuesday of January in odd-numbered years”. It is said that the dead of winter was chosen because of the agrarian nature of the state – once the cattle were dispatched and the holidays were over, there was time available until spring.
In 1972, the public approved an amendment approving a budget session in even years. This session was set at a maximum of 20 working days since the Constitution also prohibits the Legislative Assembly from meeting for more than 60 days in a two-year term.
We met last Monday for the 2022 budget session.
This year, the session started on Valentine’s Day, which is not the best time. I arrived in Cheyenne on Saturday February 12, but arranged for a flower delivery to reach my wife in time.
We always begin the first day of session with a prayer and the Governor’s State of the State address. Governor Mark Gordon delivered an inspiring speech. In fact, I think that was the best speech I’ve ever heard him give.
He presented a flat budget, which would not increase government spending – and rightly so. The long-term outlook for fossil fuels remains bleak. The world has turned its back on cheap and abundant energy, one of Wyoming’s main commodities and a major source of jobs – and tax revenue. Recent increases in oil, gas and coal prices should not blind us to the need for long-term frugality.
I’m assigned to the Senate Appropriations Committee. We review each government expenditure budget, revise them where we deem necessary, and present these budgets to the Senate for review, amendment and vote.
Last week, we presented the budget for all capital construction projects, as well as the budget for Wyoming’s share of Congressional American Rescue Plan Act money, which is in the hundreds of millions. It is money printed by Washington, at the cost of the highest inflation in four decades.
According to the law, the money must be spent; it cannot be saved. Seems crazy to me but typical of Washington. Since this is one-time money, it would be unwise to use it to finance existing or new current expenditures. The Senate’s recommendation is to put almost all of that money into capital improvements for health care, water supply projects and initiatives to diversify our economy.
This week, the Appropriations Committee will present the budget for the ongoing operation of government — more than 100 agencies, boards and commissions — to the entire Senate. As I write, I have on hand for review a stack of 8-inch budgets for the agencies assigned to me for the floor presentation.
Once voted, budgets go to the House for a similar process. They will make their own changes, and then a conference committee will meet to resolve the differences.
The budget is then submitted to the governor for signature, and then we go home. I can’t wait to be home.