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Legislature adjourns early; Mead praises budget efforts

Feb 28, 2013 - By Ben Neary, The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- Wyoming lawmakers should be proud of their public service and their willingness to make tough decisions, Gov. Matt Mead said Wednesday in remarks capping off the general legislative session that started in early January.

Mead told lawmakers in separate addresses in the Senate and House that he was in Washington, D.C., last weekend for meetings with other governors.

The Republican said he heard from governors from both parties that they disagreed with the way Congress is handling the pending automatic budget cuts. He noted states have to make tough decisions about balancing their budgets every day and, unlike the federal government, lack the ability to print their own money.

"There was disagreement among the Democrats and the Republicans over whether that was the right amount of cuts or more cuts needed to be made," Mead said. "But what there was agreement on was that by setting up something that they all say that they don't want now, and doing it on the 11th day, the 11th hour, that's no way to run a business. That's no way to run a railroad."

The Wyoming Legislature this session followed Mead's call for 6.5-percent budget cuts for most state agencies.

"I think that's one of the fundamental things that's wrong with Washington, D.C. -- that they won't make those tough decisions," the governor said.

Despite cutting state agencies, the Legislature approved a supplemental budget that still adds roughly $78 million in new spending, largely because of one-time spending on projects. That's on top of the $3.2 billion state funds budget that lawmakers approved last year for the biennium that runs through mid-2014.

Mead vetoed language in the budget bill that would have required state agencies to spell out further detailed cuts in the coming two fiscal years. The governor said there's no point in going through the considerable work of preparing for specific cuts before detailed state revenue estimates are in.

Mead already has signed into law a bill that passed this session that will increase the state's fuel tax by 10 cents a gallon starting July 1. That increase will raise about $70 million a year, with about two-thirds going to the Wyoming Department of Transportation and the rest going to cities and counties.

The Legislature also passed a bill this session, which Mead signed into law, to remove Cindy Hill as head of the Education Department. Hill has been replaced by a temporary director appointed by Mead. Eventually a permanent director will be appointed by the governor, with approval from the state Senate.

That move -- a fast-tracked bill that was the first legislation passed -- generate fierce controversy, along with a lawsuit filed by Hill and vows of retribution at the ballot box next year.

"The main message that I want to give to all of you is that this has been a tough session, and I know that," Mead said. "But I also know that it's better to have a tough session than to avoid those issues that affect generations to come. You all have tackled those issues."

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Legislature, Wyoming