Wyoming’s declining revenue picture continues. The governor and legislators obviously are anxiously waiting for the next Consensus Revenue Estimating Group’s forecast, knowing full well that future bienniums could force even tougher budget balancing times. Given these realities, perhaps the time has come for Wyoming to seek outside “fresh eyes” to objectively assess government programs and spending.
At the Governor’s Business Forum (an event organized by the Wyoming Business Alliance), the idea of fresh eyes was floated by David Javdan, a principal with Alvarez & Marsal, an international government efficiency consulting firm. He believes that opportunities to find efficiencies in government exist, but only by working objectively, collaboratively, and transparently. Such an independent review could ultimately result in better government programs and services for the citizens of Wyoming.
Going outside the state to pay for consulting advice may not be appreciated by some, but our choices to balance the state’s budget woes are dwindling. This is not our first bust. Yet, Wyoming needs to face the fact that today’s slump in the minerals sector is different than previous years and few, if any, think we’ll have a revenue rebound of the gigantic late 2000 proportions. Just consider that the K-12 forecast, based on evaporating coal lease sales and royalties, is a shortfall of some $1.8 billion by 2022. The Governor and Legislature already have cut $250 million from the General Fund, and now they are looking at an additional $156 million shortfall.
Let’s consider the possible solutions on the table. There are state “savings accounts,” but should these be drained completely? The $570 million Land Holding Account committed for K-12 education now is gone, and the rainy day account of over $1 billion is being depleted.
Taxes are another way to raise revenue, but it is clear that support for any tax increases will be sketchy in the opinion of Tax Reform 2000 followers until most of the savings tucked away in all the different coffee cans are gone. That reality, draining savings, is getting closer every day with no doubt numerous unintended consequences.
The issue of cuts in government spending, including K-12 and higher education, is challenging and fraught with assumptions often based on personal views and not facts. More cuts will be pursued, but the question is how and where?
To have a clear understanding of the facts, we should follow other states’ footsteps like Kansas and Louisiana and have an independent review that looks for less expensive ways to run programs and reduces duplication by different levels of government. Louisiana’s 90-day review produced recommendations of how to reduce $500 million a year in recurring operational savings, not by cutting services but by working with people in each agency and across agencies and empowering them to make changes in how programs operate. More recently, an efficiency report for Kansas recommended ways to save $2 billion in government spending over the next five years.
Fresh eyes could help us objectively analyze government programs, spending and taxes. There may well be resistance within both the legislative and executive branches to this idea. However, such an investment, at a minimum, could well settle questions regarding services provided-whether they are essential or how efficiently they are being provided and whether priorities of yesterday are truly needed today.