January 22, 2021
January’s People’s Review: LIVE! featured Wyoming legislative leaders and a U.W. professor of economics talking about Wyoming’s budget and Wyoming’s values. They offered a sobering look at how the state is choosing to address severe revenue shortfalls. One legislator called it “the leanest general fund budget in fifteen years.”
Rep. Steve Harshman, co-chairman of the Joint Revenue Committee made one thing clear from the start: “Everybody thinks government’s all in Cheyenne. [But] it’s all out in everybody’s communities statewide. That’s where most of the budget is.”
Senate Minority Whip Andi Clifford said, “The budget put forward by the governor and the Joint Appropriations Committee doesn’t reflect the values we hold dear in terms of taking care of our state, our community, and our neighbors. We haven’t done enough for our most vulnerable. I’m really worried about mental health, early childhood education, suicide prevention to name just a few.”
There’s no other way to put it: Wyoming is in a bind.
Money from the coal, natural gas, and oil industries—which make up most of the state’s historic revenues—is going away. Leaders are grappling with how to make up the shortfall—amid both vocal opposition to new taxes and a stubbornly persistent narrative that says government is bloated, there’s always more waste to trim, and the only solution is “to starve the beast.”
First things first. Wyoming has the lowest number of state employees in 19 years.
Both Clifford and Harshman highlighted that the Department of Health and the Department of Family Services bear the brunt of the massive cuts. Our elders, our children, our family members with special needs, our neighbors with mental health concerns: these are the people who will all lose vital the services they depend on for their quality of life—and often to stay alive.
“Think of your own community,” said Co-chairman Harshman. “Services that allow elders to stay in their homes. Foster families. Addiction services. These are not government jobs [being impacted], these are private people. ”
So if reasonable people—state leaders from both sides of the aisle—agree about both the severity and the nature of the problem, what’s the solution? Where do we go if we’re not willing to raise new revenue and we’ve cut services to the bone?
For starters, more Wyomingites need to be talking about the problem.
More public conversations are essential. That means conversations in which we name the problem and its roots Wyoming is facing a permanent and devastating loss of revenue that seriously threatens our communities, and it isn’t doing enough—especially when it comes to considering new taxes—to find other sources of revenue.
Despite the dire budget situation, all the panelists agreed: we will make progress if we keep talking about the future we want to see.
Co-chairman Harshman put it even more simply. “Every problem can be solved. It’s going to take a lot of evenings and a lot of talks like this all over the state.” (His followup advice? “Less Facebook. More fishing.”)
The People’s Review: LIVE! is made possible thanks to the generous support of People’s Review Leadership Circle members Marcia Kunstel and Joe Albright, and Mike Shonsey and Kathy Jenkins.
The People’s Review Leadership Circle is a group of individuals who are committed to fostering the tough conversations and seeking the workable policy solutions that move Wyoming forward. If you would like to learn more, please email email@example.com.