The News Editorial: Legislators need to prioritize
February 10, 2022
The Wyoming State Legislature begins the 2022 20-day budget session on Monday.
There are many important decisions for the Legislature to make during this shortened session that occurs every two years. The first important decision is, of course, the budget. By all accounts, working the budget this year should be easier than the past two budgets where numerous cuts had to be made.
Revenues for the state have improved, without taking into consideration the $1.2 billion worth of federal COVID funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.
The ARPA funds brings us to the second important decision for the Legislature, what to do with $1.2 billion. It would be easy to go on a spending spree. Think if you won even a million dollars, your first thought probably would be to buy things you never thought you could afford and things you probably do not need. Just as you should not do that if you win the lottery (take some time and think about your purchases first), the state should also not go on a spending spree.
This is one-time money, essentially. No one knows what the federal government will do next regarding the COVID pandemic or providing funding to states.
One thing the state should not do with the funds is spend it on any ongoing expenses such as programs or staffing because once the ARPA funds are gone then the state either has to find the funding or cut said staff or program.
If the state wants to bring back programs that were cut that is great, as long as it is with the understanding that they will continue to fund the program well into the future. It does not do the citizens any good to provide services, take them away, bring them back and take them away again.
They should also ask, who was hurt when the services were cut and how important is the program? If it is important then the state needs to make a commitment to funding it with ARPA money and with general fund money in the future.
In looking at new projects or programs the state needs to answer the question who does it benefit? The answer should always be the residents of the State of Wyoming. If it is not, then do not spend the money.
Finally, the third important decision to be made during the session is redistricting, which is required after the census. The current proposed statewide plan would add two House districts and a Senate district, which in turn adds three more legislators to the overall Legislature.
The plan as it stands now, helps ensure that the Big Horn Basin representation remains where it is currently with five House districts and three Senate districts. Keeping the representation ensures that the voice of the Basin is heard down in Cheyenne and the needs of the Basin will be discussed in Cheyenne.
While those are major issues with not a lot of time, the Legislature is also faced with numerous committee bills and individual legislator bills.
Each and every legislator needs to be committed to taking care of the most important needs first and then if there is time working on other issues.
They should not get bogged down on other bills and fail to complete the most important work this year.
In the words of former State Senator Gerald Geis, if a bill, either by committee or individual, is a good bill, it will be back in the next session.
As usual, he was right, if a bill is not a good bill then it is a good thing it either did not pass or get discussed.
You can also do your part. The pre-filed bills are posted online at wyoleg.gov. You can follow proceedings online as well and all legislators encourage constituents to contact them. Contact information is available at wyoleg.gov.
My advice to our local legislators and those around the state when they get to Cheyenne I will steal from Dr. Laura Schlessinger, “go do the right thing.”