This year's budget cutting might only be the beginning for state, Sen. Case warnsApr 5, 2016 By Christina George, Staff Writer
The Wyoming Legislature passed a smaller biennium budget for the state this year, but a longtime Fremont County lawmaker says it can't be sustained as written.
The one-time funds include coal lease money, said State Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, noting that some legislators assume depressed commodity prices will return to higher levels in the near future. But Case thinks it might take several years for the prices to return to normal.
"It's a budget that cobbles us through one year with the hopes that things will turn around," he said. "I think we have been living off one-time funds that won't be available in the future."
Case recommends a more forward-thinking approach.
"We're not factoring that into future budget expectations," Case said. "I think we will have to come back next year and really finish what we started. ... We don't have the revenue stream to support the size of our government."
The 20-day budget session ended March 4, but Case said the legislature likely will have to revisit the same issues it tackled this year during a supplemental budget session in 2017.
Those issues include the local government distribution budget passed this year, which slashed state funding to cities, towns and counties from more than $180 million to $105 million.
"We will be back talking about that next year," Case said. "We cobbled it together enough to get out of town."
Not all about budget
Even though the 2016 session seemed to focus mostly on developing a budget during a time of revenue shortfalls, Case argued that other issues came up as well.
"I think it's a misnomer when you say it's all about the budget," he said. "I think the total time on the budget on the floor ... in the Senate worked out to about 12 hours. I would guess in the House it could be more. But it's always clear to me it's not primarily about the budget when you look at the numbers."
Case successfully carried a bill that will soon make it illegal in Wyoming to make a bad faith assertion of patent infringement.
The legislation also specifies several factors for a court to consider in determining the existence of bad faith and creates a right of action for someone aggrieved by a bad faith assertion of patent infringement.
Case said he was approached by a telephone company that received demand letters saying it owed a manufacturer a patent royalty for technology it purchased and implemented.
Case said realtors have been shaken down by companies claiming royalties on patents they say are on software used for virtual home tours.
The legislation goes into effect July 1 and is the first bill Case sponsored that garnered support by all 90 members of the Wyoming Legislature.
"It was strongly supported," Case said. "I have never had a bill supported like that."
Another bill Case was involved with passed after heavy debate.
He chairs the Joint Corpor-ations, Elections & Political Subdivisions Interim Committee that sponsored legislation modifying party split requirements for certain boards and commissions.
Current state statutes limit how many board members and appointees can serve on particular boards and commissions from the same political party.
The new legislation lowers the political party split requirement to provide no more than 75 percent of members from the same party on nearly 20 boards and commissions, including the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees.
Case said the bill made several boards completely non-partisan. Yet, he said it was the most partisan bill to come up in session.
"I thought it was very unfortunate," he said. "I would like to go more that way, with party affiliation not being considered."
If there's a restriction, it makes it difficult ... and some people were changing party affiliation to get on a board and then they reverted back."
The Legislature for the second consecutive year shot down a bill that would have created specialized license plates in honor of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes.
Case chairs the Select Committee on Tribal Relations that brought forth the bill this year. He said it was unfortunate that the bill didn't pass even though it was revised to allow all citizens registering a vehicle to purchase the plates - not just enrolled tribal members.
"I think that was a good solution, and then it was considerably refined with the scholarship component," Case said.
During the session, the bill was modified so that the fee to purchase one of the specialized plates would increase from $30 to $100, with the extra funds going toward scholarships for tribal students attending UW.
"I thought that was pushing the envelope a bit, but after talking with my friends about it, and they liked it, I supported it," Case said.
He hopes the Indian Education for All Act effort that wasn't brought to session this time returns in 2017. The proposed legislation would bring more tribal studies into the classroom.
Case said he still plans to study a possible consolidation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs' St. Stephen's Indian School and the state-run Fremont County School District 38 on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
"I would at least like to explore it and see if it's a good idea," he said. "It might not be a good idea. There are issues we have to get straightened out."