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Wyoming's Baseline Budget Sets Sail

Rep Ben Hornok
April 19, 2024

On the same page in the April 6th edition of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, two of their regular opinion columnists tried to use the power of the pen to subtly steer voters into thinking Freedom Caucus-type legislators are akin to a drunken boat captain steering the good ship Wyoming. 

One columnist calls on registered Democrats to change their party affiliation prior to the crossover voting deadline so they can vote for those he calls “Capable Republicans,” several of whom he mentions by name. Those “Republicans” mentioned voted for nearly every spending increase and against every proposed budget offset that would have kept the budget from ballooning.

The other columnist, whose articles always provide the ivy-league-educated approach to Wyoming politics, writes, “It got to a point where, if certain legislators rose to speak for or against a bill, you could almost pencil in the vote count based solely on the fact that they had taken a position.” 
He was accidentally spot on. Though his effort was to try to chastise certain legislators that did not vote for the giant new baseline budget, it also reveals the heart of the problem. He writes that too many legislators in the House work by “political divisions and personal grudges,” implying that they refuse to listen to reasonable arguments.

Both articles try to bash Freedom Caucus-type Republicans who fought against budget increases from every flank. But shouldn’t we be cautious about spending increases? Who are the real responsible and reasonable Republicans? More importantly, how will we maintain this spending level in the future?

The current spending plan of well over $11 billion is now the new baseline budget for Wyoming. This is thanks to new inflationary adjustments that automatically raise budgets to allow departments to maintain any past frivolous spending; massive pay increases across the board rather than targeted, needs-based increases to meet necessary demands; and an ever-increasing scope of departmental services provided they can meld together fancy words like innovation and partnership.

I worked hard throughout the last year and during the budget session to study and home in on some of the spending Wyoming citizens were interested in or concerned about. I proposed many amendments I thought should make up a more responsible budget. However, every proposed change I suggested was met with resistance and disdain by “Capable Republicans.”

Neither author provided specific examples of this one-sided vote problem, so allow me to so you can decide for yourself who ought to be steering the ship. 

Our state constitution requires that a certain amount of money always go into permanent savings. Revenue from this savings helps fund Wyoming government services and ensures you never have to pay an income tax. This is fantastic! However, as our investment grows, do we have to continue spending the same percentage as always? I did not think so and tried to reduce this spending allowance by just one half of one percentage point (0.5%). This would have grown our savings account far into the future. Imagine not paying property taxes in the future because the earnings from this account pay for all the necessary schools and local government services. This amendment failed.

Another amendment I proposed would have put more money into this permanent savings account rather than spread it around into other accounts. I figured the piggy bank without the hole in the bottom is generally the right place to put taxpayer money. This amendment also failed.

Still another amendment blocked the requirement for YOU to pay a portion of state employees’ automatic contribution for THEIR future pension. This requirement would prevent them from having to endure a reduction in their take-home pay this year and risk not noticing their massive new raise. You guessed it, this amendment did not pass.

I fought for an amendment to cut $100 million out of the hundreds of millions of dollars Wyoming is prodigally sending to out-of-state energy companies. If their marketing team can put together a posh proposal, they can get a huge check, compliments of your tax dollars. Some of these proposals resurrect failed ideas from the past or align with the modern ideas of capturing that super deadly gas that every plant just so happens to need to survive. The buzz term for this spending is “all-of-the-above energy strategy.” Once again, this amendment did not pass.

These amendments died on the House floor because of the penciled in vote count already determined before I even presented them. However, when the Senate President, House Speaker and the other hand-picked members of the final budget committee emerged from the smoke-filled back room, reminiscent of Hans Gruber and his thugs at a Christmas party, they had realized they had gone a bit too far and actually incorporated these last two amendments into the final version of the bloated state budget.

Any spending strategy for Wyoming should not be based on how big a tantrum “Capable Republican” politicians can throw in the checkout lane of the supermarket when they don’t get what they want. It should be based more on how wisely we can strategize and plan for retirement thirty years from now. 

We came out of this budget session with the largest budget in Wyoming’s history. In other words, this is the new baseline we will have to figure out how to fund for the next thirty years. 

What happens if the war on fossil fuels is won (actually lost) and this revenue for the State dries up? What happens if our permanent savings account does not grow in pace with the love for spending? The answer is those “Capable Republicans” may start looking to you and picking your pockets through income taxes or even higher property taxes. 

Is this where we want to go? Or should “Capable Republican” legislators who just vote against something because of grudges and personality conflicts start listening to those of us on the outside of political power that have valuable ideas? I hope so. The good ship Wyoming deserves better captains.