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January 08, 2013 8:34 am

EDITORIAL: Follow the Legislature

Written by Don Amend

This week, the Wyoming Legislature opens, faced with a number of difficult choices.

The principal challenge is to continue to meet the state’s needs in the face of a slump in the demand for coal and low prices for natural gas, as well as possible cuts in the federal budget that might affect the state. Balanced against that is the problem of meeting the state’s needs in areas such as highway maintenance and construction.

 

 

We in Wyoming are used to having a huge share of our government services funded by taxes on these and other minerals, a situation that has, despite our complaints about taxation, kept our individual taxes low. However, this is a state of long distances, and well-maintained, safe highways are important to our way of life.

Consequently, while the Legislature likely will welcome Gov. Matt Mead’s proposals for budget cuts, lawmakers probably will take a skeptical look at his recommendation for a 10-cent per gallon increase in the state’s gasoline.

One issue the Legislature may find itself debating is whether the state’s situation calls for drawing on $1.6 billion in the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account, the so-called rainy-day account, rather than making deeper cuts or raising taxes. Legislators are reluctant to do that, because the current slump in the mineral economy may last for many years, and the state should operate on current revenues as long as possible.

Other issues on the Legislature’s table are the state’s continuing resistance to the federal Affordable Care Act — specifically, Mead’s recommendation that the state turn down $50 million from Washington to expand Medicaid in the state, and Wyoming’s failure to form a state health insurance exchange.

The Legislature will continue to struggle with school accountability and with an ongoing controversy about the Wyoming Department of Education.

Locally, county and city officials are struggling with the same budget dilemma, and they are supporting Mead’s proposal providing $25 million for the state’s cities, towns and counties in the budget.

These issues are just the tip of the iceberg that legislators face as they listen to the governor’s State of the State message on Wednesday. They plan to complete their work in 37 days over the next two months, and they will be working long, hard days and probably a number of evenings to complete their work.

The Legislature has made it easy for voters to follow its work and communicate with senators and representatives on issues of concern to you. On the Legislature’s website, legisweb.state.wy.us, all bills that are introduced are listed along with where each bill is in the legislative process. Also included is information about how to participate during the session, email addresses for legislators and directions for leaving a telephone message for your representative or senator. You will even learn how to listen to the Legislature’s sessions via the Internet.

We encourage everyone who is concerned about an issue or the Legislature’s work in general to follow the work it is doing. If you have concerns, take advantage of the opportunity to contact your senator or representative and express your concerns. Although legislators often are tied up in committee work, floor debate or other responsibilities, they usually are conscientious about responding to communications from their constituents.

It’s easy to sit back and complain about the results of the Legislature session, but a better choice is to take an active interest while lawmakers are working, especially if one has a particular concern about a bill under consideration. We urge voters to take the latter path, because our senators and representatives are conscientiously working in the best interest of the state and their constituents, and they welcome your help in doing that work.

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