By Bradley Harrington
“The principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.” — Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to John Taylor,” 1816 —
Last week we determined that few, if any, of our state legislators grasp that the only clear path out of Wyoming’s budgetary woes is to “CUT SPENDING” (“Even blind squirrels trip on acorns every now and then,” WTE, Feb 4).
Now, as proof that Gov. Matt Mead doesn’t get it any better than our legislators do, consider this:
“He [Mead] said that revenue streams that spike and plummet leave the state’s agencies and communities that depend on state funding in a constant peril of uncertainty in the boom-bust economy … ‘We can’t be telling people you have enough money for 100 people in a nursing home in year one, then in year two, say we only have enough for 50,’ he said.” (“Wyoming governor supports ENDOW policy of not advocating on taxes,” WTE, Jan. 20.)
Well, it’s real easy for our state politicians to blame our budget problems on “boom-and-bust” cycles, but that’s not what the figures tell us. Consider these Wyoming spending figures since 1976, for instance, in biennial increments:
■ 1976: $700 million
■ 1978: $800 million
■ 1980: $1.2 billion
■ 1982: $1.8 billion
■ 1984: $2.2 billion
■ 1986: $2.5 billion
■ 1988: $2.3 billion
■ 1990: $2.4 billion
■ 1992: $2.7 billion
■ 1994: $2.8 billion
■ 1996: $3 billion
■ 1998: $3.3 billion
■ 2000: $3.7 billion
■ 2002: $4.3 billion
■ 2004: $5.1 billion
■ 2006: $6 billion
■ 2008: $7.5 billion
■ 2010: $8.7 billion
■ 2012: $8.7 billion
■ 2014: $8.9 billion
■ 2016: $9.9 billion
Well, I certainly see plenty of “booms” in state spending, but — except for a small slowdown in 1988, erased by the next biennium — I’m looking in vain for any “busts” to be found anywhere.
So, do our budgetary “boom and bust” cycles come about because of the fluctuations in energy prices? Or is it that state spending simply climbs to meet incoming revenue, regardless of “boom” or “bust” — and then ends up being caught short when the next “bust” hits?
The facts clearly point to the latter, but you will hear little more than crickets chirping when you question your state politicians on this. No, they will continue to blame our economic woes on a “lack of economic diversification” or on “uncertainties” in our “revenue streams” — anything other than admit that we’re in this fiscal mess because state politicians can’t keep their hands off the spending throttles.
Because, you see, in even the worst possible of “boom and bust” budgets, it’s always possible to make things balance — simply by using your average incomes and expenditures as your guide.
If, for instance, to use Mead’s example, the state has funding for 100 nurses this year and only 50 the next, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that you fund 75 for each year, the average of the two.
So, when state government gets extra income during the “booms,” what SHOULD it be doing? Setting those dollars aside for the “busts” coming down the road — NOT blowing it on spending increases not warranted by one’s average income streams! Yet this is exactly the course Wyoming state government has taken for decades — and now these people want to lecture us about “diversity” and “economic uncertainty”?
And then, to top it all off, some of our “leaders,” such as Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, seek to “fix” this problem with tax increases? To hold YOU as responsible, at the point of a government gun, for their failures and errors? You have GOT to be kidding me.
Now, on top of all of this, let’s throw in a couple of other facts to consider as well:
■ Wyoming, as a state, is outstripped only by Alaska in per-capita government spending; for 2016, they spent $14,290 per person to our $13,477. And the national average? Less than half of what we spent, at $6,683.44.
■ Wyoming, additionally, has the highest per-capita proportion of government workers as well, with fully 22.4 percentage of its population in 2015 employed by government at all levels (the national average was 14.2 percent).
So, clearly, there’s plenty of room for cutting spending everywhere you turn — and it’s about time we turned to it.
That’s not going to happen, however, while we remain mired in excuses and obfuscations. Yes, there’s a huge deficit looming for our State Legislature in the coming weeks — but the real “shortfall” here doesn’t involve money, but our red-ink modes of thinking instead. And who knows when any of that will ever end up in the black?
Bradley Harrington is a computer technician and a writer who lives in Cheyenne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: This column was originally published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle on February 11, 2018.