By Bill Sniffin, publisher
How best to describe the recently completed legislative session?
Recently here in Lander, the local Rotary Club invited state Rep. Lloyd Larsen and state Sen. Cale Case, both Lander Republicans, to report on it. Here are some of their thoughts:
Larsen said he spent years working in the oil patch and he described the legislative session like this:
“A lot of days, days like right now, you would see it was going to be a cold and rainy day. It was going to be a mess out there. So, what do you do?”
“You get up and get dressed. You prepare for the weather. You load up your gear and start out early. You fight your way down the muddy roads to your project, no gravel just muck. And you spend the day doing your best.
“That night, when you get home, it’s late. You are tired, dirty, and beaten down by the experience. But then you look back and you say to yourself, ‘you know, we got quite a bit done,’ despite the conditions.
“That is what working in this past session of the legislature was like to me,” Larsen concluded.
Case has served over 30 years in the Legislature and has a reputation as a fiscal conservative. As an economist, he can be convincing when arguing against raising taxes. But that is in the past now.
“We need new taxes and we need them now,” he said. “You cannot represent your folks if you sign a no new taxes pledge.”
He said the state is in trouble with its revenues. He pointed out Wyoming has the lowest property tax in the country and ranks 47th in the nation for its sales tax rate.
“We are a tax haven but it is unsustainable,” he said.
Case says our fossil fuel production is in trouble. “You think we can get by in the future? No way,” he says. “Even if we elect a Republican president and take back the U.S. Senate, fossil fuels are in trouble. We are a fossil fuel state. We are dreaming about the past. We need to think about the future, where fossil fuels are not coming back.”
Case said the Legislature actually developed, debated and agreed on a supplemental budget for the state in a swift and courteous manner this year. He gave lots of credit to the Appropriations Committees in the House and the Senate.
“It was the school funding bills that got us off the rails and (we) ended with no bill and subsequently no cuts and funding for schools at present levels,” he said.
“I have been supporting a look at Medicaid Expansion for several years and have voted for it at every opportunity. In no small part my support is based on life experience from a time when I was diagnosed with advanced stage melanoma that required sophisticated, expensive and long term treatment and at a time when I had lost my job and insurance by divorce,” he explained.
“At that time, Wyoming was still in the great recession and I was barely able to hang on doing consulting. I was sunk by my melanoma and I learned what it feels like not to be able to obtain needed care because of a lack of insurance.”
Larsen feels strongly that the huge cuts to the departments of Health and Family Services will negatively affect lots of desperate folks who really need the help.
He is upset that education has not seen the same level of cuts.
“I cannot stand by and watch education get by without the same cuts the other areas of our government,” he says.
To illustrate just how difficult times are on the state level, both Case and Larsen voted to have Wyoming join the federal Medicaid program.
“It is time,” Larsen said. But the measure failed.
One of the key players in the Wyoming Legislature is Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne. He is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which has critical oversight on what cuts are made in the budget affected all aspects of state government.
I ran into Bob at the grocery store right after that Rotary meeting where Cale Case and Lloyd Larsen spoke.
He agreed with Larsen’s assessment that the session was difficult. But he was proud of how hard everyone worked.
He was in town because his father, Judge Jack Nicholas, had recently passed away. His dad was a 50-year friend of mine and was a true Wyoming icon.
Judge Nicholas was 94 when he died. He and his wife Alice had recently celebrated their 72nd wedding anniversary.
The judge was a former legislator and was father of two legislators, Bob and his brother Phil Nicholas of Laramie. His daughter Lily was a former key staffer in the Legislative Service Office (LSO).