Our Wyoming State Legislature started this week, with Gov. Matt Mead’s State of the State address on Jan. 11. The House and Senate convened at noon that day and will meet until March 3. Although last year was the budget session, dollars will be the main topic this year, too.
One of the main topics will be how to fund our K-12 schools. One hears that Gov. Mead and the legislators really don’t have a plan as of yet, but that issue will be for the legislative process to work out. You can bet that there are some good ideas going around the Capitol, and if not, they don’t let on to us.
The K-12 schools will face a $400 million shortfall in the years ahead. So how do we deal with that amount every year? Along with that, school construction dollars are about gone, I hear. How do we maintain all the newer schools that have been built the last few years?
Who would have ever thought that a time would come where the President of the U.S. would stop leasing coal on federal mineral rights and tax the electrical generating plants for burning coal? Instead of burrowing their head in the sand, the federal government needs to help states more find ways to burn the coal with less carbon. If we went to the moon, we ought to be able to find ways to develop clean coal and not destroy the states and towns who have the coal to mine.
Raising property taxes is not a popular idea, nor is having a state income tax. In fact, raising any taxes will not get you a free cup of coffee. I have always supported raising the sales taxes, if needed. It is a fair way to make sure we all pay and that one industry or age class doesn’t get nailed. And it is a fair way that taxes everyone who comes and enjoys what we have to offer as a state, such as good roads, scenery and good people.
Besides school funding, the legislators have to find a way to come up with $80 million to repair the State Penitentiary in Rawlins. Remember, they built it on unstable ground 15 years ago, kind of like some schools around the state. That is a huge problem that will take some discussion.
The state has some rainy day accounts with not much policy on when and how to spend those funds. That, too, needs to be debated. There are those who just blame the Republicans for not want wanting to spend those accounts. Remember, under our state constitution, we have to balance the state budget every two years. Spending money like our federal government will just get us in trouble, affecting Republicans, Democrats and all.
One thing we all can do as citizens is to get to know our legislators. Whether you are in agriculture or not, we all belong to some organization or group, and most of them have receptions for the legislators and our elected officials. It is our responsibility to get to Cheyenne, pony up, attend those receptions and get to know the legislators and state officials. And don’t just tell your representatives and senators how you disagree with them. Give them a “‘Atta boy” or pat on the back, and do the same for your lobbyists. They all do a very hard service to the state.