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January 13, 2009 3:36 am

With dwindling surplus, legislators need to be cautious this session

Written by Tribune Staff

Fiscal conservatism likely will mark the Legislature's 60th general session convening today — and with good reason.

Though Wyoming is one of the few states enjoying a budget surplus this year, the situation is much grimmer than it was even three months ago. Last week, Gov. Dave Freudenthal announced that the surplus revenues will be less than one-third of October projections. In a memo to legislators Friday, Freudenthal said budget surplus estimates went from $900 million to about $260 million.

“It is critical to remember that we are not cutting the biennial budget that was approved last session,” Freudenthal said Friday. “We are reducing the amount that we might have added to it. We now need to accept the facts as they are, and tighten our belts. We must view this situation as an opportunity, take advantage of it and really think carefully about what we're doing.”

As Big Horn Basin legislators met with local educators and city leaders last week, they also emphasized that Wyoming needs to exercise caution this session.

House Speaker Colin Simpson warned that the next two years “might be a little scary.” Sen. Hank Coe said his message is one of fiscal responsibility, stressing “we've got to be conservative this year.”

Even though Wyoming's energy-based economy is more secure than most, the state is not immune to the global financial crisis.

Lawmakers are hopeful for the state's future, but fortunately for Wyoming residents, legislators and the governor understand the need to be cautious this year with an uncertain economic future.

Of course, there needs to be a balance in spending. Wyoming does have a surplus, and legislators still need to invest in infrastructure, education and other programs to keep Wyoming economically viable.