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No immediate revenue relief in sight, says Bebout

Apr 19, 2016 By Christina George, Staff Writer

It's tough to head into a legislative budget session when the state is facing declining revenues, and the future doesn't hold a lot on the horizon as far as an increase is concerned, said State Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton.

"We started off with a difficult session, but at the end of the day, I would rate it probably a B or C, in that range, because we did more good than bad, but we just didn't take care of a lot of things, in my opinion" Bebout said.

The Management Council this session split the 2017-18 biennium budget into a series of bills instead of having one overall budget bill. It's been done in previous sessions, Bebout said.

However, he said this year the general government appropriations bill was approved before the smaller budgets.

"It was a matter of how the bills were worked and some of the controversy," Bebout said.

"If we could have gotten those bills debated and decided upon before the general budget, it might have worked, but it created a situation where the general appropriations bill got ahead of those."

Bebout said cities, towns and counties faced losing state funding when the local government distribution bill nearly failed toward the end of session.

That could have been prevented if the budget was addressed in one bill, he argued.

"In my opinion, we should have left it alone. The whole idea was for people to understand the budget bill, and with one bill you've just got to do your homework.

"It comes at you fast, but if you are on top of it, you can deal with it," Bebout said.

Less spending, more reducing

Bebout said he would have preferred the Legislature this session spend less and reduce more.

"There's no question that the size of our government relative to our revenues and the size of our state has grown," he said. "I still think we needed to have a reduction in government."

Bebout doesn't suspect revenues to rebound soon.

"We've got fewer rigs working in Wyoming since the history of Wyoming, and it's not going to turn around like we had in the past because of all the rules and government regulations," he said.

"Wyoming is right there in the head of the people in Washington, D.C., going after the West.

"I never in my wildest dreams would have thought they could do what they are doing with the coal industry," he added.

Using savings

Legislators built up the state's rainy day account knowing tough economic times were ahead, Bebout said. Lawmakers voted to spend $230 million out of funds for the next budget cycle. The figure could have been higher, Bebout said, if it weren't for the unexpected $170 million in abandoned mine lands federal funding.

"We will put sideboards on that spending," he said about using savings. '"Many would have liked to have spent more this year, but what about the future?"

Despite having to cut spending and the unlikelihood revenues will rise, Bebout remains optimistic.

"Even with this bad news, we are better off than most states," he said. "We can get through this. We've got to be smart, we've got to be cautious, and we've got to use our head."

Capital construction

Bebout co-chairs a task force overseeing renovation projects at Lander's Wyoming Life Resource Center and Evanston's Wyoming State Hospital.

The Legislature voted to allocate $9 million for the next design phase of the dual project. It also approval $70 million to pair with $80 million already saved for the overhauls.

"That is something I think we are doing a good job of working with the executive branch," Bebout said about the projects. "We will start with the WSH and are putting together (requests for proposals) as we speak."

Bebout also sits on a committee overseeing $300 million renovations at the State Capitol Building. He said he was successful in getting legislators to nix an extra $1-4 million to add an interactive tourism center and revert the money to the state prison in Rawlins.

"That is all fine and dandy when you have money," he said. "We are not going to spend more than $300 million as long as I have anything to do with it. It will be a challenge to the very end to keep that thing on budget and on time, and it's going to take a lot of hard work."

Non-budget bills

Bebout said he was pleased to see a bill pass basing state funding for community colleges on enrollment.

"The community colleges have always been out there at the whim of the Legislature, and we've been trying for several years to get something in place that would allow them to have a formula like we do with K-12, and that bill is a great first step," he said.

Bebout also supported a successful bill permitting improvement and service districts to allow emergency medical services to enter into agreements to furnish services.

He co-sponsored a bill combining construction management with the school facilities department.

Legislation that Bebout didn't favor but passed will add a district court in Cheyenne.

"I was a minority on that one. It will cost over $1.5 million," he said. "I didn't want to spend money. I consistently tried to vote no on new programs."

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