It is budget season, and both the city and county are grappling with projected revenue declines of 20 percent or more. On Monday, the state’s first cost-cutting measures will go into effect – 10 of the state’s rest areas will be shuttered to reduce the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s operating costs. 

The closures were prompted by a need for WYDOT to reduce costs due to unprecedented budgetary shortfalls. The move is the first in what will likely have to be a tsunami of changes, closures and reductions of service.

In light of these revenue shortfalls, Gov. Mark Gordon instructed state agencies to take immediate action to further reduce spending and prepare for deeper cuts in the coming months. The reduction plan requires agencies to prepare for more drastic scenarios and be proactive, since the revenue situation could further worsen. Already the state has imposed a hiring freeze and limited large contracts. 

The state’s budgetary shortfall is staggering – over $1.5 billion in the next two years. 

“We are in uncharted territory,” Gordon said. “We have just experienced the largest loss of income in our history just four years after our second largest loss of income. But, even if every state employee was let go, or if we closed the prisons, eliminated all money going to the courts and stopped funding persons with disabilities, we would still run out of funds at the end of the biennium.”

As we have watched our state’s coffers shrink over the past four years due to declining production and prices for oil and gas, a common refrain from elected leaders was that the state would need to tighten its belt – that this was a spending issue, not a revenue issue. Hence, for many years,  the Revenue Committee – the committee charged with managing the state’s revenue streams – failed to pass any meaningful changes to how the state generates money.

Now we are faced with some difficult choices: What services are we willing to forgo entirely or in drastically reduced capacity? 

Following last week’s rest area closure announcements, there was a social media frenzy about the necessity of those roadside stops and shock that WYDOT would see fit to reduce such vital services – and we don’t disagree that rest areas are convenient and useful. 

Unfortunately, unless other revenue streams are found, we need to brace ourselves for much more drastic service cuts. State, city and county jobs will also need to be cut. For Johnson County, where 22% of the labor force is employed by the state or local government, this is especially sobering news.

It appears that those politicians who opposed any and all new revenue-generating measures will finally get what they’ve been clamoring for: deep cuts in government spending. Unfortunately, these cuts will come with painful reductions or elimination of popular government services. 

While nothing can be done to change poor decisions that have not adequately prepared Wyoming for the future, we can hope the Legislature will soon recognize that at some point you cannot cut your way to prosperity.

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