Sen. Dave Kinskey

What a difference two years makes. Hard to believe, but two years ago we were in session and cutting budgets to stave off huge deficits. The most painful to enact were those in programs like Medicaid. But health and social services are over one-third of the budget, and you can’t reduce spending without reducing those programs.

Zip ahead to today. The legislature is awash in a one-time gusher of excess revenue produced by high oil, gas and coal prices, compounded by rising property taxes. The rush, by some, to spend more, seems unstoppable at times.

The governor’s budget had some new spending in it, yes, but on one-time expenditures, not new, on-going programs. Once the current windfall dissipates, there will not be the revenue to support continuous spending programs.

Importantly, Gov. Gordon proposed sending nearly $700 million to Wyoming’s permanent fund. There, the money cannot be touched by politicians. The investment earnings will help fund the budget for generations to come.

Already the permanent fund provides 30% of the state’s operational budget. Building up that savings account will help support education, and possibly stave off future tax increases.

The governor’s budget then went to the Joint Appropriations Committee (“JAC”), consisting of seven members of the House and five members of the Senate. I am a member of that committee. It is our job to approve or deny the governor’s recommendations and add or subtract spending advocated by members of the committee.

Getting a budget to the full House and Senate necessarily involves some compromises. As a general rule, I find many legislators are willing to spend more than I am. But, sometimes, you have to agree on spending you don’t like in order to get a bill to the full Senate and House for consideration. Once there, you hope to convince the floor to cut out the excesses - sometimes, but not always, with success.

This year, the budget produced by JAC went too far, in my view. It calls for over $250 million more in spending than the governor proposed. That’s north of quarter billion dollars. And, sadly, the JAC budget, unlike the governor’s, calls for zero funds to go to the Permanent Fund. You read that correctly, the JAC budget doesn’t put one thin dime into the one account politicians cannot touch. Instead, the monies the governor would have socked away are directed into two checking accounts, referred to as “reserves.”

The JAC budget also adds back cuts to on-going programs that were reduced just a few years ago. Unanswered is the question as to what future revenue stream will support those programs. Other than our one-time windfall, our underlying revenue structure, heavily dependent on minerals, has a bleak future as the world war on fossil fuels continues.

In the past, I’ve had to hold my nose and vote for JAC budgets I didn’t like to get them out to the floor for debate. But not this time. I simply could not support that level of spending. I voted “no,” as did one other senator. The budget was approved with unanimous House approval, and on a 3-2 split on the Senate side.

This budget session is a “supplemental” budget, meaning that a two-year budget for the state is in place, and this year’s budget is intended as an interim amendment. This supplemental budget could die, and the state’s business would go on. Unless the full Legislature can rein in the excess spending, and put money into long term savings, perhaps no budget would be the best outcome for this session.

Dave Kinskey represents Johnson County and eastern Sheridan County in the Wyoming Senate. A businessperson and former Mayor of Sheridan, he can be reached at his legislative email at Dave.Kinskey@WyoLeg.gov.

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