A fundamental change is needed in the way the Legislature handles the state’s budget, according to a member of the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee.
Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, a nine-year member of the Legislature, said the budget submitted to the Legislature by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees — working together as the Joint Appropriations Committee — is flawed because of the makeup of the JAC.
“I’m more disillusioned about the political process and the way we do the budgeting here in Wyoming now than I’ve ever been,” he said. “I think the process as is today is just structurally flawed.”
Hicks said the imbalance between Senate and House members (five senators to seven representatives) makes it impossible for the JAC to present a budget agreeable to both the House and Senate.
“(Representatives) have more members on there and they can vote (for) anything they want and routinely we’ve seen them do that,” he said. “So you don’t have what you would consider a reasonable compromise position.”
The members of the Senate Appropriations Committee this year decided to argue against the items of the JAC budget they did not support, Hicks said, resulting in the repeated conflicts between the two chambers over the measure.
Hicks suggested that the Legislature’s rules be changed so that five House members and five Senate members would make up the JAC.
“We could bypass a lot of that stuff if we would just go to a system where … it’s a 5-5 vote, where we are forced to compromise and then it is truly a Joint Appropriations Committee budget,” he said.
Most of the disputes over the supplemental budget approved by the Legislature stemmed from a difference in philosophy between the House and Senate, Hicks said, which became evident during discussions on potential new taxes.
“The position of the Senate is you can’t have this discussion of increasing taxes and not be able to show fiscal constraint,” he said. “The philosophy that seems to prevail, not with all the House … is ‘We’re OK, we’ve got a saving account, we do this spending and taxes both.’ That’s the philosophical difference we have right now. It’s not personality-driven.”
Hicks said if the Legislature does not do something to reduce spending at the same time it looks at adjusting the state’s tax structure, Wyoming is looking at significant shortfalls in the future as it draws down its holdings in reserve accounts.
“It pushes us toward that fiscal cliff, where then you … have to come back with a series of draconian cuts and substantial tax increases,” he said.