I have been watching with great interest the debate going on in the paper regarding Wyoming’s budget.
You know that one side is losing the argument when they resort to “playground diplomacy,” which is to twist the facts to fit their point of view (Oh! Ha! My dog is too meaner than yours because — he has one blue eye!), give into the need to call the mother of the enemy all manner of despicable names and finish off by telling them that their sister is fat.
That was the impression I was left with after reading Rep. John Bear’s guest column today.
That playground diplomacy seems to be the currency of politics today — all performance and no substance.
I have served on the Appropriations Committee now through seven legislative sessions with a budget or supplemental budget being the focus of each session. I would like to offer some data that I think is important in the conversation of fiscal conservancy. Each of these facts can be verified.
FACT: The two biggest savings accounts for Wyoming have nearly doubled in value in the last 10 years.
The Permanent Mineral Trust Fund has gone from $5.6 billion to more than $10 billion since 2012.
The Common School Permanent Land Fund has gone from $2.36 billion to a projected $5.05 billion in 2024.
FACT: Just from these two savings account alone, every Wyoming household benefits by $3,100 that would otherwise be a tax burden every budget cycle.
These two savings accounts generate revenue used to pay for the general operations of state government and education that account for $3,100 for every single household in Wyoming. That is $3,100 that stays in your pocket.
This only happens under focused, conservative leadership, which is what we have been fortunate to have in Wyoming today and the past few decades.
The critics of this success story seem more interested in giving their ear to those from other states who pledge financial support for the next election cycle rather than engage in the mundane, not sexy, time-consuming effort to understand the state’s budget needs.
It seems their political careers rely on rhetoric suited and funded by Washington, D.C., where we have a real budget crisis. That’s simply not the case in Wyoming.
Here is another fact: In the 2009-2010 biennium, Wyoming’s general fund budget was $3.5 billion, and this biennium it was $2.907 billion.
You read that right. Wyoming’s general fund, the money that funds the operations of our state, is actually less than it was in 2010, and this takes into account one-time use of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of $411 million in this budget.
That is a victory of fiscal conservatism unheard of anywhere in the country!
How did the Legislature do this? They actually shrunk the size of state government. There are FEWER people on the state payroll today than there were in 2010. Again, that is simply remarkable. Prove me wrong, but I don’t think you can find any other state whose general fund budget has remained flat over the last 10 years.
That is what it means to be fiscally conservative. That is also how you explain the incredibly important increase if permanent savings. Those savings accounts are a legacy for our state and for our children. The interest earned off those accounts are a MASSIVE tax savings that we will enjoy forever.
Just last year alone, our Legislature put almost $1.5 billion into savings. This past session was perhaps the single most fiscally conservative budget in the history of the state. To try to claim otherwise is, frankly, silly. It is impossible to defend that kind of claim, so the playground mentality resorts to name calling.
The truth is, everyone one of our state employees and our state government is doing more with less. They are providing incredible services to us without the same resources they had 12 years ago.
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is today. Luckily, in Wyoming we have both. For the past two decades our leaders understood the importance of planting that tree and we are reaping the rewards of their foresight. Our leaders today also understand that importance and have put in place what is perhaps the most conservative budget in the history of the state.
We should stop the name calling and instead call every one of our legislators past and present that voted for those budgets and these savings accounts and thank them.
Thank them for putting us in such a strong financial condition. We should thank them for their foresight and their ability to think long term. Their fiscal conservative budgets for the past decade, and especially in the last session, have made Wyoming better.
Wyoming still faces many headwinds. We are still incredibly reliant on the extractive industries — coal, trona, oil and gas — for nearly 2/3 of our revenues. Being so reliant on those commodities and their related price fluctuations is risky. The best way to help reduce that risk is have a permanent and consistent source of income (i.e., the savings accounts our leaders have built).
So, thank you! Thank you to the Wyoming legislators past and present for have the fortitude and the conservative philosophy for Wyoming. Thank you for the $3,100 that I don’t have to pay in taxes that those principles provide to me and my family.
Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, is a member of the Wyoming Legislature’s Appropriations Committee.