A better fiscal note

Apr 19, 2013 By Steven R. Peck

Local governments appreciate fewer strings attached to a new state allocation

It is encouraging, even exciting, to anticipate a nice chunk of relatively unencumbered state funding on its way to Fremont County's government and municipalities.

The Wyoming Legislature took the action last winter, but only now is the reality of the appropriation sinking in. Hundreds of thousands of dollars will be coming to Riverton, with similar amounts on the way for Lander, Fremont County government and the other municipalities, based on population.

Reporter Eric Blom covered the story Thursday. A key segment of that report was as follows: "Legislators also loosened constraints on the money."

That element of the transaction probably pleases the local governments at least as much as the arrival of the money itself. The funding mechanism for local governments in sharing state revenues was changed some years ago, to the point that many more strings are attached to money arriving at city halls from state coffers. During the vast economic expansion in the first part of the new century, Wyoming residents heard again and again how wealthy the state was, and to an extent, how wealthy some counties were. Yet in the cities and towns, where most citizens (and voters) actually live, "wealth" was not the word that most would use to describe the standard of living. For all the money that was available from the state, most mayors and city council members would agree that not enough of it could be put to use at the discretion of local leaders rather than under rules and regulations applied from Cheyenne.

Any legislator will tell you that state lawmakers poured hundreds of millions of dollars into local governments over the past decade, but the message never seemed to get fully through to Cheyenne that while the cities and towns appreciated the funding, they would appreciate the state's trust in how to spend it just as much.

The new appropriation from this year's Wyoming Legislature takes a step toward remedying that situation. It is not perfect in the eyes of local governments, but it is better. Rather than being strictly earmarked for a particular purpose, much of the new revenue can be used more or less as local governments see fit to use it.

This money, combined with revenue shared from the 1 percent optional sales tax, and from the statewide tax on fuel of 10 cents per gallon, begins to paint a local governmental revenue picture much brighter than would've been anticipated even a year ago.

The challenge now for local officials comes in how to use the money. Might it be put to the general fund to be used in regular budgeting? Shall it be added to work scheduled under the optional 1 percent sales tax? Could it be pooled with other local governments for a joint purpose? Or are there new projects on the local government wish lists that could be open to discussion now that this money is arriving?

By no means is it a gold mine, but it is a most welcome fiscal note for local governments. And isn't determining how to spend new revenue a much more pleasant proposition than deciding how to cut spending? Let's make the most of it while we've got it.

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