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December 08, 2011 11:08 am

Editorial: Governor proposes sensible budget

Written by Don Amend

Gov. Matt Mead has submitted his first budget, and it appears to strike a wise balance between spending and saving by the state government

Some legislators, concerned about possible reductions in federal funding and mineral revenues over the next few years, are calling for across the board cuts in spending. They would put the money saved into the state’s “rainy day” fund to mitigate those expected cuts in revenue. That fund already holds $1.5 billion, and some legislators would like to see that doubled.

Gov. Mead’s proposal takes a step in that direction by designating more than $400 million be added to the state’s savings account and recommends budget cuts that would flatten the growth of the state’s spending. But he also calls for increases in funding for infrastructure. For example, his proposal would increase funding for the state’s local and county governments, for capital construction and for highways.

In addition, the governor’s budget proposal continues support for education in the state. Consequently, as we reported in our last edition, Northwest College may avoid making major budget cuts.

Mead argues that, while saving money for the future is necessary, it doesn’t make sense to save money for the future while neglecting today’s needs. Necessary capital construction projects, for example, will likely be more expensive in the future, so delaying them may not save money in the long run, and may actually cost the state more money down the road.

Further, Mead calls money spent on highways, water projects, local government and education an investment that will create opportunities for economic growth and put the state in the position to take advantage of such opportunities.

In short, a big savings account in the future will be of little value if it comes at the expense of necessary investments that are vital to economic development if Wyoming is to remain competitive.

The state government, like the rest of us, should spend money carefully, and how to do that is always debatable. Wyoming’s spending has increased rapidly over the past decade, and it is a good idea to slow that increase. But while saving for the proverbial rainy day that may be coming, it is foolish to neglect expenditures that, if they are done now, might lessen the impact of that rainy day. They may even prevent it from happening if the expenditures result in economic activity that makes the state less dependent on energy development.

Balancing the budget in the face of the uncertainty of the future requires walking a fine line between wise saving and sensible spending. The balanced approach presented in the governor’s budget is designed to walk that fine line as safely as possible and ensure a sound fiscal future for Wyoming.

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