At the beginning of this Legislative session, we advised lawmakers to use their time wisely. We asked them to focus on the critical economic issues facing the state instead of distractions. More than anything, we implored them to make the sort of structural changes that would allow Wyoming to finally break free of its dependence on the energy industry and the boom-bust cycle that comes with it.
On all these fronts, lawmakers failed.
The Legislature did pass a budget last week and will soon reconvene to address lingering education and capital construction questions. But they squandered much of their time arguing over less important issues that could have easily waited until next year’s general session.
It was critical this session that effective leadership guide the state out from under the shadow of this budget deficit. That did not happen. And in that vacuum, legislators floundered.
They failed to prioritize bills that mattered. They failed to efficiently manage limited time. And they certainly failed to act on behalf of their constituents who deserve an answer to our state’s most fundamental question: How do we diversify our economy?
Wyoming simply deserves better.
Legislators spent a significant portion of the session debating bills that hold little weight or urgency against the looming education funding deficit. Bills like the stand-your-ground measure, which affirms what state courts have already held; or the bill that would have allowed “In God we trust” plaques to be displayed in government buildings or public schools. Neither of which were as pressing as the fate of our education system.
But lawmakers have so far failed to come up with a multifaceted solution to the education funding problem, and left educators and parents throughout the state wondering about the fate of their schools and their children.
Budget sessions require all non-budget legislation to be approved by a two-thirds vote before being introduced. But that threshold did little this year to stem the flood of trivial bills that managed to eat up weeks of valuable time. So when the session quickly approached the finish line, lawmakers were tired, unyielding and no closer to a budget solution than they were when the session began.
Every minute spent debating such inconsequential legislation was a wasted opportunity. Instead of discussing long-term solutions to the consequences of a commodity-based economy, lawmakers practiced in bad politics and bad legislation.
Budget sessions are shorter than general sessions and they only come every other year. And if the two-thirds threshold couldn’t keep the dogs out even in a year with such pressing budget demands, then the threshold should be raised. The budget should be the priority in budget sessions.
Oil prices are rising and drilling is up. A boom is on the horizon. But the bust sure to follow is as inevitable as the setting sun. And Wyoming will be no better equipped to survive it than the last one.