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February 15, 2011 8:33 am

EDITORIAL: Consistent funding stream needed for local governments

Written by Tessa Schweigert

This week will give local governments a better picture of what their funding looks like in the supplemental budget.

As in previous years, the Legislature will provide a snapshot of funding for the immediate future — but what Wyoming’s cities and towns need is a forecast of what to expect down the road.

Gov. Matt Mead proposed to create a consistent funding stream for at least the next seven years. Under his plan, 0.5 percent of Wyoming’s severance tax on minerals would be split equally among local governments, highways and Wyoming’s “rainy day fund.” Each recipient group would receive about $50 million, Mead said. Currently, that money goes into permanent state savings.

While local governments’ funding still would be at the whim of the economy and volatile energy industry, at least city and county leaders would have a consistent base to know what percentage of the tax to expect each year.

That would have compensated, to some degree, for revenue lost to cities, towns and counties in the late 1990s when the Wyoming Legislature capped the amount of mineral income it would provide to local governments.

Unfortunately, the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee rejected Mead’s proposal for a constant revenue stream. Instead, the committee proposed to provide one-time additional funding of $35 million for local governments and $40 million for highways.

Not only does the legislators’ proposal undercut the governor’s proposal by about $10-$15 million, it also fails to create a permanent funding stream for highways and cities and counties.

The lack of a consistent revenue source makes it quite difficult for local governments as well as the Wyoming Department of Transportation to adequately plan for future projects.

Further hindering local governments is the loss of sales tax revenue on groceries — and the Legislature hasn’t created a permanent replacement to make up for that loss.

Park County remains one of the only counties in the state to not use the optional 1-cent sales tax. Most cities and counties have come to rely on the optional 1-cent tax, and it’s good to see local governments of Park County find ways to efficiently run on less than others in the state.

Another failed proposal would have given local governments a greater share of sales tax revenues. Instead, those funds will remain with the state.

Wyoming must continue saving for the future — but lawmakers should also realize it’s important for local governments to have an identifiable revenue source so they can plan for that future, whatever it may be.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link February 15, 2011 12:50 pm posted by JB

    Perhaps if some people would live within their means begging for money wouldn't be such an issue.A lot of things have been built lately that were not really needed. Start practicing CONSERVATISM instead of just playing the part selectively.

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