Just around the bend...
I've heard old-timers say that you can gauge how hard a winter will be by the height at which wasps build their nests. The higher the nest, the harder the winter. As I sit looking at the stack of legislative bills and paperwork I've received over the last month or so, I can't help but wonder if a similar correlation exists between it and the legislative session... the higher the stack, the harder the session? It is a lot of reading and research, but it is well worth the effort. Preparation is the key to success and I enjoy the work.
The 2012 session begins on Monday, February 13, 2012. Two major items will dominate the work schedule - the biennial budget and legislative redistricting. Both issues can be quite complex and inspire passionate debate.
The budget has been particularly interesting this year. Somewhat of a roller coaster ride. A few weeks ago, while speaking to a local civic group, I was happy to report to them that the state was in good shape financially and economic projections estimated that the general fund would have a surplus of funds with which to work. Only days later the situation changed dramatically. Natural gas prices had fallen well below $3.00 and economic forecasts now left the general fund with a deficit. Just like that we went from being in the black to plummeting into the red. The energy production and mineral extraction industry has been very good to Wyoming financially, but it is times like these that I especially realize the need for a more diversified economy in Wyoming.
Is Wyoming broke? No. Currently there is in excess of $1 billion dollars in the legislative reserve account, often referred to as the "rainy-day fund". My guess is that there will be a major push this session to draw some funds from that account to help make up for the deficit and bring more money back into municipalities and counties. Personally, I support efforts to invest in our communities. With infrastructure needs high and construction costs low, this may be our best opportunity to get some things done. Who knows? Natural gas prices may even spike again...
Redistricting has been quite the process, also. With the 2010 census complete, the Wyoming Legislature is charged with the task of redrawing senate and house districts to reflect the change in population. While not a member of the committee responsible for submitting a proposal, I've done my best to be involved and pay attention to what is happening. There are some basic principles that must be followed - districts should represent a "community of interest", district lines need to be contiguous and major geographic features (mountains, rivers, roads, etc.) should be considered when forming boundaries. This probably works out well in heavily populated areas, but in a state like Wyoming, where there is a lot of land between people, this can be a problem. The result? Well, in the current proposal, the Farson-Eden area will be included in a senate district where the majority of the population resides in Carbon County. I'm not sure I would refer to Farson and Rawlins as a "community of interest", would you? The corporations committee, the group responsible for submitting a proposal to the full legislature, has done an incredible amount of work and should be commended for the amount of effort they've put into this job. Of course, their proposal is not the final word on the issue - individual legislators may still make amendments to the final map during the upcoming session. The current proposal can be viewed at the following link - http://legisweb.state.wy.us/lsoweb/Redistricting/LegilativeRedistricting.aspx. Check it out and give us your feedback.
That brings me to my final point for this post... the legislative process works best when everybody participates. I know I speak for several legislators when I say how important it is that we hear from you. After all, we work for you. Comments, questions and thoughts are all very much appreciated. At legisweb.state.wy.us, you can find information about legislators, upcoming bills and much more. If you can work it into your schedule, plan a trip to the capitol and see the session live, in progress. If you are able to make it over to Cheyenne, let me know when you'll be there, so we can schedule a time to visit. You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the course of the legislative session, I will be submitting regular posts on this blog site in an effort to keep you informed about what is happening with your state government. I hope you'll check back regularly for updates. It really is a pleasure to serve you in the state legislature. I look forward to seeing and hearing from you soon.
Joe M. Barbuto
Wyoming State Representative
House District 48
House Minority Caucus Chairman