I get depressed thinking about the new state budget cuts. It's not clinical depression. More like a short-term funk brought on by knucklehead legislators.
The Gov announced a new round of cuts Tuesday at the Joint Appropriations Committee meeting in Cheyenne. Appropriate for the hottest day in four years, one swaddled in smoke from a wildland fire burning on the Colorado/Wyoming border. All the tall grass and timber nurtured during a wet spring is drying out and set afire by careless humans. Might be a fitting analogy here. State Government budgets nurtured by rising mineral royalties during the past 10 years are now undergoing slash-and-burn tactics by the careless Republican-centric legislature. I think I will run with that, even though the comparison is a bit of a stretch. Maybe a hidden meaning lurks within, as in something embedded in a Flannery O'Connor short story.
First, a few words from Gov. Mead. He's the guy in charge. He's the guy who has been saying for the past year (go here) that across-the-board budget cuts are dangerous for Wyoming and cause the state to "lose talent and skill." They will lead us into a "death spiral." Fewer state services and fewer state employees cause losses in the private sector and will send us into a spin we may not recover from. You want state parks with campgrounds and boat docks and bathrooms that work and helpful staff? You want loans and grants to help attract tourists to a revived downtown? You want roads that aren't pock-marked with potholes/ You want a professional highway patrol that comes to your aid when your truck skids off an icy road in January? You want to care for our veterans and elderly and disabled? You want someone to come in and put out that wildland fire that threatens your little house in the forest?
It takes money. "Doh!" says Homer Simpson, surprised that he didn't think of that. Homer's not much of a money manager. When he has to have an RV to keep up with the Flanderses, his request for a loan sets off sirens and red blinking lights at the dealership. Thing is, the state has a rainy day fund of a couple billion dollars. If we dip into that, no sirens go off. We do get wailing and gnashing of teeth from the same legislators who hate Obama enough to scuttle Medicaid expansion that would prevent some of the layoffs in the health care industry that we now are experiencing in Casper and elsewhere. Those same legislators despise gubment and the same gubment workers who plow their roads and clean the toilets at Guernsey and Glendo. "DOH!"
The legislature has dipped into the rainy day fund. It is raining -- hard. Legislators are being conservative (surprise!) and are taking only $180 million from the fund, believing that the energy downturn will last 10-15 years instead of the 3-5 projected by most experts. Coal will never come back, due to global warming. But who knows? A good war may erupt, causing Dick Cheney to replace his usual scowl with something akin to a shit-eating grin. His daughter Liz will be elected to Congress and immediately make coal a mandatory snack at schools and senior centers from coast-to-coast. Laid-off coal workers can go back to work and legislators can do what they do best, socking away mineral royalties for a rainy day that they pray never will come.
In the interest of full disclosure: I was a Wyoming state employee, an arts worker, for 25 years. I now am a Wyoming state retiree.