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Wyoming Legislature

Lawmakers listen to Gov. Matt Mead’s State of the State address during the joint session of the Wyoming Legislature last January at the Jonah Business Center in Cheyenne. Wyoming's top public defender has asked the Legislature to grant more staff positions.

Wyoming’s Legislature will convene for the 2018 budget session Monday. Lawmakers will have only one month to draft a budget that meets the needs of the state and contends with a still looming $750 million deficit. In that short time, they’ll vote on a number of bills aimed at generating revenue, cutting spending and making long-term plans for Wyoming’s economy.

But this isn’t the first time the Legislature has convened underneath the shadow of such a deficit. Since Wyoming’s fossil fuel industry busted in 2015, state legislators have grappled with ways to address the deficit. And still they’ve done nothing to institute significant change to ensure that Wyoming’s economy will be safe for the long-term. They’ve applied band-aids to stop the bleeding, but they’ve done little to prevent further pain.

Consider what this board wrote this time a year ago, before the Legislature convened for the 2017 session.

The legislative session that starts this week has the potential to shape Wyoming’s future for decades to come.

When lawmakers convene Tuesday in Cheyenne, they will begin to decide how the state will fund its spending on government and education. The situation is dire...

Gaps of this magnitude mean these decisions won’t be easy or simple. But they must be made. Legislators don’t have the luxury of kicking the can down the road — hoping the economy improves or someone else figures it out. Decisions need to be made now so the state never finds itself in the position of having no choices…

Wyoming lawmakers were elected to solve the state’s problems, and make no mistake: There are some big problems. The state’s current economic crisis comes as coal, oil and natural gas – which form the backbone of the Wyoming economy and pay the bulk of taxes to fund state government services — find themselves in a prolonged slump. It’s no surprise that the state’s economy was recently ranked last in the nation, partly because of its heavy reliance on energy.

Now is the time to address that. Energy will always be an important part of Wyoming’s economy, but it needs help. The sector supports state spending more than any other. In the face of evolving markets – which cast doubt on energy’s ability to return to its former heights – a rebound in the industry won’t likely be enough to totally solve Wyoming’s woes.

It’s distressing to realize we hardly need to change a word this year.

Legislators seem to have lost whatever momentum they may have had for serious tax reform and economic diversification in the wake of a revenue outlook that has somewhat improved. Instead of making changes to stop Wyoming’s seemingly endless cycle of boom and bust periods, lawmakers seem ready to embrace the status quo. They appear prepared to kick the can down the road once more.

But lawmakers need to get serious about Wyoming’s long-term economic health. Band-aids won’t be enough to stop the bleeding after another bust. This is the session to consider system changes and long-term fixes that could lead to a more consistent future for our state.

The can is at the end of the road.

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Opinion Editor

Dallas Bower joined the Star-Tribune copy desk in June 2017. She studied English at the University of Wyoming. Her favorite book is The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, or Harry Potter, depending on the day.

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