Lawmakers Leave Cheyenne With Mixed Feelings

Mar 4, 2016

Credit Bob Beck

The Wyoming legislative session has come to an end and few seem to be leaving Cheyenne feeling satisfied.

One of the few people leaving with a positive feeling is Casper Representative Tim Stubson. Stubson was heavily involved in crafting the state budget and voted against such things as Medicaid expansion and voted for a number of budget cuts.  But he says when you look at the state’s finances those cuts were needed.

“Really I think the job we did, I really don’t think it’s a job that’s complete, but it gets us in a position to deal with where we are economically going forward. And I think it was a balanced way to do it, you know all savings, it was not all cutting, it was a balance of those two things.”

And don’t tell Stubson that they stuck it to people while focusing on building projects.

“I mean they look at 162-million out of a 3 billion dollar budget that we are spending on capital construction. And that capital construction is all about people, it’s about the state hospital, about the Life Resource Center in Lander, it’s about the University. I think this budget is all about people and what it’s about is sustaining over the long term our services to people.”

But another appropriations committee member doesn’t feel quite as good. Senator Jeff Wasserburger of Gillette said it was tough.

“There were a lot of things that we did that personally I have issues with.”

Wasserburger said the state’s fiscal situation is dire and he said cuts had to happen. But the Republican noted that they were very difficult.

“I voted to cut those programs so they were heart wrenching votes and they really bothered me, they bother me to this day. And I think the one that bothers me the most was the family literacy piece.”

Wasserburger learned that program helped children and adults and the budget cut cost 34 people their jobs.  

“I’m not proud of it. I mean I did it, but I’m not proud of it.” 

I'm leaving here for mixed emotions, I feel for these programs, I feel bad about the cuts we've made but um, the bottom line is if you are at home and your revenues go down and you can't make your budget work in your house. What do you do, you make cuts someplace.

Wasserburger said had Medicaid expansion passed, several programs would not have been cut, because they would have received enough federal money to pay for them. That still gnaws at him. 

“The only reason I can think of that we are not taking the Medicaid money is because we are giving it to poor people. We would have taken it instantly if it had been for highways, if it had been for the University we would have taken it instantly, if it had been for K-12 schools. We take it all the time.”

To that point, Democrats strongly agree. House Minority Floor Leader Mary Throne’s criticism of the Republican approach to budget cutting is that it wasn’t done intelligently. She said the fiscal downturn caused lawmakers to panic and make cuts. She said everyday people will pay the price.

“I almost would have preferred that we held the line this year and then maybe over the interim had all the major legislative committees look at their departments and look for savings. I’m not opposed to cutting programs that don’t work anymore or aren’t needed. But you have to spend some time and think about it so you don’t make mistakes.”

For Senate Minority Leader Chris Rothfuss it was a mistake to cut education funding and it was a mistake to not look to the future. Rothfuss thought they should be aggressive and recruit new business and broaden the tax base.

“We have to have funds available that will allow us to recruit other industries, perhaps information technology, biotechnology, anybody that’s in a different sector. And that means we have to be prepared to invest in infrastructure projects that are specific to recruiting or whatever else is necessary. You need a 100 million dollar slush fund or something waiting.”

Rothfuss said instead, the state is taking austerity measures, which will allow it to fall behind other states who are recruiting more aggressively.  He added that they also have to enhance revenue coming into the state and that means evening out the tax structure. 

Senator Hank Coe came to the legislature during the bust of the 80’s and he’s worried about spending too much. He doesn’t think lawmakers overspent over the last decade, but he said tax increases are difficult on people and should only be done as a last resort. For the time being Coe said he believes that cuts have to be on the table.

“I’m leaving here for mixed emotions, I feel for these programs, I feel bad about the cuts we’ve made but um, the bottom line is if you are at home and your revenues go down and you can’t make your budget work in your house. What do you do, you make cuts someplace.”

And for now, that seems to be the plan.