Here are some editorials from newspapers around the state:
Lawmakers shouldn't sign away the ability to make their own decisions
From the July 28 Casper Star-Tribune
A decade ago – before oil prices bottomed out and coal companies began to falter – times were good.
Now, Wyoming has hundreds of millions of dollars less to fund state government. The 2019-20 budget is the smallest in nearly 20 years, with no relief in sight, and in recent legislative sessions we’ve seen little more than a series of stopgaps that have allowed us to squeak by a year at a time.
Some legislators and critics cite spending increases during the boom years as the root of the problem. Government got too big, they say, and money that could have been saved or invested was frittered away. That argument is fair, especially in light of our current circumstances, but we disagree with the implication that slashing state services is the only solution.
But on both sides of the aisle – Teton County Democrats and staunch, rural Republicans alike – most people agree that simply cutting back on spending will not solve our conundrum before it becomes an all-out crisis.
The pro-cut contingent frequently cites statistics showing that, per capita, our state and local governments spend more than almost all other states. But in the nation’s least populous state, those numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Paving a highway has a set cost, regardless of how many residents it serves. Every town, no matter how small, needs schools, police and fire departments, sanitation, water and other essential services. Our wealth of wide open spaces means parks, forests, wildlife and fisheries need more professional management than other states, not less.
Those statistics also neglect to differentiate where our government revenue comes from. Wyoming has no personal income tax. No corporate income tax. No estate or inheritance taxes. The effective property tax rate is the ninth lowest in the country. Even through the economic downturn, taxes and royalties from oil, gas and coal have continued to cover the bills. It’s safe to say we pay very little out of pocket in exchange for the quality of life we enjoy here.
Some believe mineral revenues can return to pre-bust levels. But outside of those who have something to gain politically by doubling down on their support for coal, it’s generally accepted that the industry’s gradual decline is not going to reverse itself. Coal will certainly continue to be a cornerstone of the state’s economy for the foreseeable future. But we can’t rely on it like we once did. And regardless of the long-term outlook of Wyoming’s extractive industries, we have economic concerns that must be addressed now.
This is not a call for new taxes. It’s an acknowledgement that the situation is complicated.
That said, it troubles us that some lawmakers continue to sign anti-tax pledges circulated by policy groups. Politicians may think these pledges signify his or her dedication to a cause, but it really represents a loyalty to outside influencers as opposed to the voters. To be effective in hard economic times, lawmakers must put all the cards on the table and consider each option carefully.
None of us want to pay more taxes. If you’re committed to not raising them, many people in the state will praise you for it. Perhaps they’ll even vote you into office. But never forget who you are beholden to.
At some point during your tenure – every year, probably – you’ll be faced with a conundrum related to the state budget. The needs or wants of residents and state agencies will come bearing price tags the state can’t afford without making cuts, reallocating funds or finding new revenue. If, in those cases, you’re able to find a solution without raising or creating taxes, we applaud you. However, “I signed a pledge” is not a valid argument for why your plan is the right course of action.
If you – as a lawmaker or candidate for office – are committed to not raising taxes, make the pledge directly to your constituents. Then stand up with your own ideas on how we can manage spending or make appropriate cuts. Falling in line behind an organization with no objectives beyond blocking taxes only weakens your position, and bars you from considering the many factors that must come into play for a balanced solution to Wyoming’s challenges.
It's fair time
From the July 24 Buffalo Bulletin
No single event draws our community together as much as the Johnson County Fair and Rodeo. After a summer of entertaining out-of-towners, the fair week is designed for the enjoyment of locals.
Fair and rodeo kicks off Friday with the 4-H fabric and fashion show and the Make-It-With-Wool contest, and things really pick up steam from there. There is so much to see and do, we’ve compiled our top 10 ways to enjoy the Johnson County Fair and Rodeo week.
10. The volunteers. The bulk of organizing and planning for the annual fair falls to the fair board, folks who will be working 18-hour days next week. They receive help from dozens of volunteers, without whom the fair simply would not be possible. You’ll see these folks dragging the track before rodeo events, acting as hosts in the exhibit halls, taking tickets and more; when you see them, be sure to thank them.
9. The Klondike Rush. Billed as “Wyoming’s Oldest and Finest” 5K and 10K race, walkers, joggers and runners are all welcome.
8. The exhibits. A walk through the exhibit halls can inspire and delight. We think you’ll be amazed once again by the handiwork of our friends and neighbors.
7. The junior livestock auction. Businesses come out in droves to support young people in their agricultural pursuits. The young sellers will be dressed in their best show duds, and the animals are sure to be sparkling, too.
6. The youth rodeo. We’d be hard pressed to imagine something cuter than a toddler in complete cowboy regalia being led through the barrels by a parent. A treat for spectators, the event has also provided a solid foundation for dozens of local cowboys and cowgirls.
5. The animals. Even in a ranching community, walking through the animal barns promises a good time. It’s not often can you can pet a goat, take a selfie with a grand champion steer and dodge loose pigs in a barn in the same day.
4. “Sheep night.” Tuesday evening is dedicated to sheep – the sheep feed, sheep lead and sheepdog trials. An event entirely unique to Johnson County, the Sheep Lead is as feel-good a night of entertainment as you’ll find anywhere. Afterward, head over to the arena for the sheepdog trials to watch the teams of sheepdogs and their handlers as they deftly work sheep.
3. The sense of community. Going out to the fairgrounds is a reunion of sorts, a chance to catch up with those folks who we just don’t get to see often enough.
2. The rodeo. No Wyoming county celebration would be complete without a rodeo. The Johnson County Rodeo is two days of cowboy fun with both traditional and nontraditional rodeo events. A few events that are sure to get the crowd laughing and cheering: the rescue races, wild cow milking and cowboy scramble.
1. The parade. Saturday morning’s parade down Main Street is a perennial favorite with young and old. Local clubs and businesses always have a good time interpreting the parade theme. We’re confident that this year’s theme, Women of Wyoming, will produce lots of colorful floats and entries.