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Less grandstanding

Feb 6, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

The supplemental budget takes center stage at the Capitol

What? You mean there is business before the Wyoming Legislature that isn't about slapping down the State Superintendent of Public Instruction?

That was pretty much the only bill in town for the first third of the session, but now that the intensely controversial "Hill bill" is behind them, the lawmakers of Wyoming are getting down to what many presumed would be the primary topic of the session: the supplemental budget.

Wyoming has a primary budget already. The state is operating under it now. Lawmakers pass the basic spending blueprint called the biennial budge, in even-numbered years, intending for it to be in effect for two years. But other spending priorities -- or cutting priorities -- can emerge after one biennial budget is passed but before the next one. There's always a supplemental budget in the odd-numbered years as well.

That's what the lawmakers are all about this week, and it is a major task.

The state is worse off, financially speaking, than it was during the luxurious budget surplus days of the past decade. Everyone knows it. Central to the budget debate is how much worse off we are, and are going to be, in the years ahead.

Before the session, Gov. Matt Mead wanted an 8 percent cut, more or less across the board. He beat the drum on that proposal for months ahead of time. But there are too many constituencies and special interests among the 90 Wyoming legislators to cut all budgets with the same cleaver. Some scalpels and razor blades will have to be used as well.

Now it looks as if a 6 to 7 percent cut is going to be more like it, but there will be some spending increases, too, before it's all done.

Even in Wyoming, the least populated state in the union, there is no such thing as one size fits all, or, to be more precise, one budget cut that fits all. Along with the budget reductions, the legislators also are hearing suggestions to increase funding for school resource officers, higher fees for hunting and fishing licenses, a higher tax on gasoline and cigarettes, and other items intended to spend or generate more money, not less.

Some funding recipients will take their medicine dutifully. Others will fight like hell to avoid it. The legislators, ultimately, must decide.

This hasn't become a knock-down, drag-out money fight yet, but there's still time in the session for that to happen. The late Ranger publisher Bob Peck, who served parts of five terms in the Wyoming Senate, recalled a session in which he sat at a table in a conference room for 12 uninterrupted hours as the end of the session neared, working as the middle man in a hard-fought budget agreement at the Capitol.

If Wyoming faces such budgeting obstacles from time to time, imagine the enormity of the challenge of a giant state such as California or Florida, when everything is magnified by a factor of 20 -- and there isn't a steady, sometimes bountiful, stream of energy revenue flowing into the state's bank accounts.

Budgeting in uncertain economic times probably is the most difficult job our legislators have to do. That's why you'll notice a decrease in the number of straight-from-cable-TV bills being debated over the next week or two, along with a general lowering of the volume emanating from Cheyenne.

It's budget time now, and that means there's not nearly so much time for grandstanding.

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Legislature, Wyoming