By Tom Lubnau, guest columnist
I fought fire for the Campbell County Fire Department for 21 years. While there, we developed a saying: “When perception meets reality, reality always wins.”
Wyoming finds itself at those crossroads.
For a generation, we have been the most conservative socialist state in the nation. We have lived off of the tax dollars paid by other people. We have developed Cadillac tastes while paying for a bicycle.
According to the Wyoming Division of Economic analysis, on average, a family of 3 pays $3,180 in taxes while receiving $27,050 in government services.
The rest of the government expenditures were paid by utility consumers from other states using Wyoming minerals.
The market has shifted away from Wyoming minerals to other energy sources. Whether those choices are wise or not does not matter. Fewer folks are buying our minerals.
As a result, we in Wyoming have a choice: pay for the services we receive, or cut those services. The potential amount of those cuts is staggering: $1.5 billion dollars per biennium – or about $3,000 for every man, woman and child in the state.
The governor has started to make cuts required by our Wyoming Constitution, because our income is far below our budget.
Given our voters’ distaste for new taxes, be prepared for new cuts. At this stage, dollars cut equal people cut.
We should be prepared for unemployed contractors due to no new construction, cuts to education meaning educator layoffs, cuts to city and county budgets meaning cuts to law enforcement and emergency services, and cuts to maintenance budgets meaning less snow removal and more potholes.
It also means less help for our elderly and our children. For six years, we have been balancing our budget with savings. Our savings is nearly gone.
We need to be prepared to change our Cadillac tastes to bicycle tastes, to tax ourselves some more or look to a combination of both.
The reality is we are spending way beyond what we are now collecting in taxes. No amount of magical thinking changes that reality.
We need to be prepared to face the consequences of our choices. Wherever our Legislature chooses to guide us, our lives will be vastly different.
The Governor’s recent cuts are a minor scratch on the surface. Be prepared for some serious changes. The corollary to “when perception meets reality, reality always wins” is that when perception meets reality, it usually hurts.
Tom Lubnau II is a recovering politician and former Speaker of the House who practices law in Gillette, Wyoming.