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Even after veto, Legislature still wants to see budget cut plans
Mar 5, 2013 - By Ben Neary, The Associated Press
The Wyoming Legislature intends to direct state agencies to prepare for a range of budget cuts despite Gov. Matt Mead's recent veto of a similar directive in the state's supplemental budget bill.
The Legislature's Management Council, a group of senior lawmakers who set legislative priorities, voted last week as the legislative session was winding down to require legislative committees to review budget cut proposals of 2, 4 and 6 percent from most state agencies before the next year's budget session.
That vote came a week after Mead vetoed language in the Legislature's supplemental budget bill that would have required most state agencies to propose budget reductions of 4, 6 and 8 percent for each year of the 2015-16 biennium. He objected to preparing detailed plans for cuts in advance of revenue projections.
"Rather than increasing government efficiency, they make for considerable work and eat into time and resources which could be put to better use," Mead said of requiring state agencies to plan for a range of cuts in his Feb. 21 letter to lawmakers.
Although lawmakers didn't try to override Mead's veto, the Management Council action would apparently have a similar effect.
Sen. Phil Nicholas, Senate majority floor leader and a member of the Management Council, said he doesn't see any difference in what state agencies would have been required to do under the language that Mead vetoed compared to the council's instructions.
If state agencies failed to respond, Nicholas said lawmakers could cut their budgets across the board.
Nicholas, R-Laramie, said he expects the co-chairmen of the Joint Appropriations Committee will send out letters in the next few months directing state agencies to provide information on how they would make the cuts.
"So we'll end up in the same place in terms of having the information prepared to analyze," he said.
Mead spokesman Renny MacKay said Monday that the governor continues to believe that it is not a good practice to establish budget reduction amounts without looking at specific services and revenue.
"He believes the state needs the ability to adjust to circumstances and should continually look for efficiencies in services and programs," MacKay said.
MacKay said Mead interprets the Management Council action to mean not that it's necessarily planning to prescribe set reductions for agencies to look at, but that it's making sure it reserves the Legislature's ability to review budgets.
The supplemental budget Mead signed into law last month imposed an average of 6.5 percent cuts on most state agencies, cutting spending by about $61 million. Overall state spending still rose by $78 million, mainly through one-time spending on projects. State fiscal analysts, meanwhile, have warned state revenues will main generally flat for years to come.
Senate President Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, is chairman of the Management Council. He said Monday there didn't appear to be enough votes to reach the two-thirds necessary to override Mead's veto. He said lawmakers still believe it's healthy for state agencies to plan for cuts.
Ross also said he doesn't see much difference between the Management Council's requirement that legislative committees demand budget cut proposals from state agencies and the language that Mead vetoed in the budget bill.
Rep. Ken Esquibel, D-Cheyenne, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, said Monday it appears the Management Council is playing politics with the budget cuts issue. "They seem to be drawing a line in the sand, that that's the way they want to go," he said.
Esquibel said the governor's full-time budget staff has the time to look into all aspects of state agency budgets while citizen lawmakers don't.
"If we want to be full-time legislators and do it like other states are doing it, then they ought to pass a constitutional amendment that say they're going to do that," he said.