Wyoming prides itself on its fierce sense of independence.
Content to do things “the Wyoming way,” the state’s leaders often look to address the unique needs of their state with a very tailored approach. Lawmakers here are often willing to look to other states for guidance but rarely for advisement.
Change comes slowly in a conservative state like Wyoming, but when it does, it often comes in the odd-numbered years where the legislature convenes for its biennial General Session, when most of the laws get passed. All other decisions on matters of the state come forward during the even-year Budget Sessions, which are half as long, substantially tighter and focused less on making laws and more on hammering the state’s guiding fiscal document into fighting shape.
However, in a boom-and-bust state like Wyoming, the state’s finances loom over the chamber debates like a stubborn storm cloud on a windless prairie day, dominating the conversation in bad times and good. Wyoming has that in common with the rest of the country — all across America, almost every single state has its finances central to the conversations and debates raging under the domes and rotundas of the nation’s capitals.
And, in true Wyoming fashion, while similar conversations on state budgeting practices may also be taking place in places like Madison, Wisconsin; Tallahassee, Florida; and Montpelier, Vermont, the outcomes look significantly different in the Equality State.
In a policy brief from the National Association of Budget Officers this past week, researchers noted many states around the country are considering modest measures to grow state revenues — a somewhat necessary, albeit marginal, evil at a time where states are becoming increasingly reliant on federal funding.
“Most of governors’ fiscal 2020 budget recommendations include some form of revenue increase or decrease proposals,” the report says. “The net revenue impacts for the bulk of them are minor. Only five states propose recurring revenue changes exceeding two percent of general revenues.”
Among the most common proposals advanced by governors are excluding retirement income, taxing electronic cigarettes and raising the gas tax — all conversations that were had in the legislature this year. Other proposals included introducing personal and corporate income taxes and provisions to help pay for Medicaid expansion, like those seen in North Carolina.
Wyoming, however, looked straight in the eyes of the great tax monster and blinked.
This past session, the legislature killed almost every revenue-generating bill it was handed, leading the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, to suggest more budget cuts may be on the horizon after years of rollbacks.
Meanwhile, the committee responsible for raising revenues for the state will be entering this legislative session frustrated, but not discouraged, and will release a number of new ideas to bring to the 2020 budget session at a meeting of the legislature’s management council March 22 in Cheyenne.
Want to really nerd out on some budget data? The Tax Policy Center released its third quarter data from 2018 providing more details on how the Tax Cuts And Jobs Act has impacted state revenues. In short: The honeymoon is ending, income growth is declining, and though state tax revenue collections remain strong, the rates are verifiably slowing down.
The Week Ahead
Monday: Mark Gordon’s transparency commission meets in Cheyenne; Sen. Mike Enzi and Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta visits Casper.
Wednesday: Federal Elections Commission Q1 Filing Deadline
Friday: Management Council meets in Cheyenne.
Have an event you’d like highlighted here? Email me with the date, time and place!
WSJ Editorializes About UW’s ‘The World Needs More Cowboys’ Campaign: The editorial board for one of America’s largest newspapers calls the University of Wyoming’s award-winning advertising campaign a triumph in the era of identity politics. (via The Wall Street Journal)
Laursen holds town hall in Powell: Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, held a town hall meeting last week to discuss the outcomes of this year’s legislative session. Taxes and revenue topped the list of concerns of the three locals who showed up to discuss state policy with the lawmaker. (via the Powell Tribune)
Dislike the law? Lobby it to death: “Rogue. Oppressive. Overzealous. That is how politicians from Torrington to Gillette tagged Teton County commissioners before taking aim at, and in some cases, shooting down, local decisions.” (via The Jackson Hole News & Guide)
Montana Looking To Tax ‘Gateway’ Communities: “Montana’s population hovers around 1 million while more than 12 million people visit the state each year. Leaders of places that act as gateways to national parks told Montana lawmakers Wednesday a new tax aimed toward those visitors is overdue.” (via the Bozeman Daily Chronicle)
America’s Frontier Hangover: “America binged on expansion, relying on land grabs as an engine of growth and a way to externalize racial hatred. Historian Greg Grandin asks, without a frontier, what can America be?” Simply a good, long read about the West. (via Longreads)
After 75 years, Cody and Powell’s community concert association shuts down: Looking back on a community staple as it shutters its doors on a certain way of life in northwestern Wyoming. (via The Cody Enterprise)
In Memory of Yellowstone Wolf 926F: A touching obituary for one of Yellowstone’s most famous wolves. Well worth your while. (via Outside Magazine)
Eye On Washington
A few interesting tidbits emerged in Wyoming’s occasionally strange relationship with federal politics last week. New polling data released last week by The Morning Consult — which has tracked the presidential approval rating by state since the election of President Donald Trump — showed that support for the president might be slipping in one of his friendliest states. In February, the President’s approval rating in Wyoming declined for the fourth straight month — the longest such skid since March 2017.
Meanwhile, out of the ashes of failed negotiations with the North Koreans, former Vice President and Wyoming congressman Dick Cheney pressured Vice President Mike Pence on the administration’s failures in the hermit kingdom at a forum in Georgia, an exchange that gained substantial traction in the big Washington publications.
Sen. John Barrasso introduced an interesting-sounding piece of legislation last week to amend the Social Security Act to improve access to mental health services under the Medicare program. In his campaign against the Green New Deal, which I wrote about in the newsletter last week, he also incorrectly stated the nation’s largest labor union was against the resolution, a fact pointed out by Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel on Twitter.
Sen. Mike Enzi chaired a meeting of the Senate Budget Committee, where they heard an aspirational budget request from Trump many consider to be dead-on-arrival with the House and Senate. Enzi, however, was quite diplomatic in his assessment of the process.
“The President’s annual budget proposal is the first step in the federal budget process and will allow us to consider how his priorities align with the priorities of Congress,” he said.
Enzi also introduced a rather interesting bill with Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, that would allow Americans to donate to federal government projects of their choosing. Asked whether or not this would allow citizens to donate to projects that hadn’t been appropriated for akin to, say, a massive border barrier that otherwise may have been funded through a third-party website, a spokeswoman for Enzi, Rachel Vliem, had this to say:
“The bill would not prohibit citizens from making conditional donations for things that haven’t been appropriated for, but departments also have their own rules about accepting donations along with it being at the discretion of the head of the department.”
“There’s nothing in the bill on funding specific projects,” she added. “The bill would extend conditional gifts to all executive departments including the Department of the Interior. Right now, every department can accept unconditional gifts that go toward carrying out its functions, and four departments can accept conditional gifts. I’d note that there’s a limitation for the amount that can be spent depending on the cost of the project. For example, if people in Casper needed to collect a certain amount of money for trash collection but came up $500 short of the total cost of the project, the department could not make up the difference with other funds — it would have to be fully funded by gifts.”
Rep. Liz Cheney: Unlike her father, Rep. Liz Cheney said that walking away from the negotiating table in North Korea was the right thing to do in an appearance on Meet The Press last Sunday.
Word on the hill also has it that Cheney has also been involved in what appears to be a heating-up contest for leadership within the House GOP conference, the cracks of which began to appear with her dissenting vote on a resolution condemning hate that was inspired by statements made by Rep. Ilhan Omar some believed perpetuated anti-Semitic tropes.