By Bradley Harrington
“If you’d know the value of money, go and borrow some.” — Benjamin Franklin, “Poor Richard’s Almanack,” 1754 —
Most of us, personally, understand that we can’t spend money we don’t have — and that if we should, there’s going to be a much huger price to be paid further down the road when those dollars come due.
The Wyoming Association of Municipalities (WAM), however, seems to have never learned that lesson:
“The Wyoming Association of Municipalities’ most recent review of how the state’s cities and towns are doing is blunt … ‘The current fiscal condition of Wyoming’s municipalities is bleak, with little relief on the horizon,’ the first page of a new report issued Monday reads.” (“Wyoming Association of Municipalities re-ups revenue recommendations,” WTE, Sept. 12.)
Now, if that sounds to you like there’s actually cities in Wyoming that can’t pay their bills without state funding, you’d be absolutely correct. “The frank truth is that there are some towns that can’t survive without some state assistance,” said Rep. Michael Madden, R-Buffalo, a co-chairman of the Joint Revenue Interim Committee.
Keep in mind, as you read that sorry statement, a few facts:
■ When it comes to total per-capita state spending, there’s only one state that beats Wyoming at $13,477 per person for Fiscal Year 2016: Alaska, which spent $14,290. States such as California, Illinois and New York — economic basket cases, all three of them — spent $6,774, $4,373 and $7,633 respectively for that same year (“State Expenditure Report,” National Association of State Budget Officers, 2016);
■ On state per-pupil spending for K-12 education — the expenditure doing so much to put Wyoming’s budget several hundreds of millions of dollars into the red for the next several years — Wyoming once again heads its way to the stratosphere. In Fiscal Year 2014, we spent $15,797 per student, beaten out only by New York ($20,610), the District of Columbia ($18,485), Alaska ($18,416), New Jersey ($17,907), Connecticut ($17,745) and Vermont ($16,988). Idaho and Utah, by comparison, bottomed out that list at $6,621 and $6,500, respectively (“Public Education Finances for 2014,” U.S. Census Bureau, 2016);
■ Regarding federal aid to states for Fiscal Year 2013, Wyoming came in at 11th, with 35.2 percent of its funding deriving from that source, somewhat higher than the average of 30 percent per state for that year. By comparison, Utah placed at 31st with 29 percent and North Dakota placed dead last with 19 percent (“State and Local Government Finance,” U.S. Census Bureau, 2015);
■ And, finally, when it comes to government workers on all levels as a percentage of total population, Wyoming rings the bell at FIRST PLACE for 2015 with 24.6 percent, over twice as much as the bottom of the list (Pennsylvania, 12.1 percent). By comparison, Utah and Idaho came in at 17 percent and 17.7 percent, respectively (“States Where the Most People Work for the Government,” www.247wallst.com, 2016).
Wyoming, obviously, has a significant tax-and-spend problem.
Ignoring such realities, however, WAM’s answer to these problems is … MORE TAXES, as follows: “1. Secure at least $105 million appropriation for cities, towns and counties; 2. Revise tax laws to allow increased municipal revenue capacity; 3. Increase the cap for severance tax and federal mineral royalties; and 4. Remove tax exemptions that do not support economic development.” (WAM’s “Municipal Finance Report Volume II,” www.wyomuni.org, Sept., 2017).
This, I submit, is a financial obscenity, and clearly demonstrates that WAM leaders are as blissfully ignorant of economics as is our state government.
When expenditures outpace revenues, Dear Readers, there’s only ONE path to take: CUT SPENDING!!! You will search the WAM report in vain, however, for such an approach. And it’s only government’s ability to steal our incomes at the point of a gun that allows these spendthrifts to get away with such actions.
And, as you ponder such stupidities, keep in mind just a few of the revenue ratholes Wyoming has chosen to pitch its dollars down for Fiscal Year 2017-2018: Wyoming Tourism Board, $27.8 million; Wyoming Business Council, $64 million; Wyoming DEQ, $178.3 million; State Parks and Cultural Resources, $50.4 million; and Wyoming Dept. of Family Services, $259.6 million. Those expenditures, alone, come to a staggering $580.1 million — and not a one of them has anything to do with the protection of life, liberty and property.
Yes, we’re in a “crisis” alright, but WAM, just like our state as a whole, fails to define it properly. On all levels, we’re relying on other entities to pay our bills — and, by doing so, we’re destroying not only our economy but our independence as well.
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 September 17, 2017.