If our state elected officials spent as much time working on important issues as they did posturing, we might not be in this mess. Yet even as they drive full-speed toward a state budget canyon, careening toward the same “bridge out” sign they arrive at every year, the effort to distract voters continues.
“Shame on Liz Cheney for voting to impeach President Trump.”
“Shame on President Biden for issuing an executive order halting new oil and gas leases on federal land.”
“Shame on those who insist we raise taxes to avoid cutting state spending on (education, local government, senior care, mental health – insert your budget cut of choice here).”
To which we say, “Shame on all of you for wasting valuable time and failing to do your jobs.”
Because once again, as we prepare for another legislative session, the same old problem stares us in the face. Only this time it’s worse than it’s ever been. And yet state “leaders” are as silent as ever.
Let’s start with Gov. Mark Gordon. If there were ever a time when we needed a strong leader to put Wyoming on a new path, it’s now. He has proposed painful cuts to balance the current biennium budget, yet lawmakers show no signs of filling the hole with significant new forms of revenue, and residents are left wondering what essential services will no longer exist when the legislative bloodletting is over.
So what is Mr. Gordon doing about it? Nothing, as far as we can tell. Instead, he’s sending out press releases and issuing an executive order directing state officials to study what might happen if President Biden’s temporary moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal land lasts for an extended period of time. (State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow is doing the same, plus appearing on Fox News to tell the country how doomed Wyoming’s K-12 school system might be.)
We fully understand the severe financial impact a permanent moratorium would have, and the uncertainty it creates for companies trying to plan. But the executive order the president signed only calls for a review of how leases are handled, and there are currently enough undeveloped leases already in the hands of oil companies that drilling could continue for years. (And we are still living in the state that had zero drilling rigs operating at one point last year, right?)
But where is the governor on solving the state’s long-term financial crisis? A Jan. 12 virtual message to lawmakers contained no new ideas or challenges for the legislative branch. And since then, all we’ve heard from the governor’s office is more of the same – we have to keep supporting fossil fuels, tourism and agriculture.
If Mr. Gordon were truly worried about the people he was elected to represent, he would be holding news conferences every week and talking to civic groups all over the state, laying out the options in plain language. We either raise sales, property and other existing taxes slightly, or the state programs you depend on are going away.
Likewise, legislative leaders should be telling residents exactly what they plan to do when the session resumes March 1. But, so far, all we’ve heard from Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, and House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, is that “budget realities will require even greater stewardship of taxpayers’ dollars. ... stretching public funds further and partnering with the private sector to foster economic growth and job creation.”
Cool. But how, exactly, will you do that? What will you do that hasn’t been done so far, and how soon will new cashflow start coming in as a result?
The only promise in a mid-January op-ed was: “New taxes that would fall on our hardworking men, women and families the most at a time when they can afford it the least will be a last resort.”
We could have written the next paragraph ourselves: “Fossil fuel production has always been a key driver of Wyoming’s economy. We will continue to work with the oil, gas and coal industries to ensure our state remains at the forefront of the United States’ march towards energy independence. At the same time, we will strive to further cultivate a business-friendly climate that supports innovation and growth.”
Again, more generalities and no specifics. Instead, what we get from the state’s dominant party is county resolutions to censure our conservative U.S. representative for voting her conscience and political posturing by one of our county lawmakers, Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, who declared he would challenge Ms. Cheney in the 2022 Republican primary.
The bottom line is our state elected officials continue to waste a lot of energy on distractions that aren’t remotely as urgent as our current revenue crisis. If they’re working behind the scenes on some large-scale plan for reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, great. We’ll happily eat our words.
But we’ve all been down this road before, and we know where it leads. Sure, there might be some sideshows along the way, but we’ve all seen the dead-end sign before, and we’re pretty sure we’re about to see it again.