“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18. True. But, where there is no vision, you can still muddle through…at least for a while. Wyoming is muddling through, squandering the opportunities the state has been given to be bold.
There was a time when the legislature met for 40 days every two years. Some thought they should meet for 2 days every forty years. That proposal was narrowly defeated but may be worth some more thought.
Next year will be the 40th anniversary of the decision Wyoming voters made to call the legislature into session every year. Appalled the state’s budget had for the first time exceeded 100 million dollars, we thought it needed more attention.
In 1972, voters bought the idea that the state’s affairs were so complex the legislature needed one session to deal with general matters and another to focus on the budget. So the voters authorized annual sessions. The odd numbered year for considering passing new laws and repealing old ones, the even number year to focus on the budget.
NOTE TO VOTERS: How’s that working for you? To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, “Is the state better off today than it was when we had a 100 million dollar budget? Has a three billion dollar budget made your life better? Whether it’s 100 million or three billion matters little if there’s no vision. Where there is no vision, the people may not perish but their opportunities in life WILL.
It appears Governor Mead has given real thought to how the state can use its fiscal resources to move forward. His budget proposal includes significant funding for local governments, which Mead correctly calls “the backbone for economic development.” He includes funds for Wyoming roads and highways, which we all agree are in dire, need. The battle will be joined by legislators who want more cuts and who believe that saving for a “rainy day” is preferable to funding a vision for the future. Vision-based budgeting would help them and us recognize when it is raining.
We used to talk about something called “zero-based budgeting,” an approach to fiscal decision-making that begins with an assumption that last biennium’s decisions should be questioned in consideration of changing circumstances and evaluations of performance.
The reality is that is far too demanding and time consuming for a citizen legislature. It would take an extraordinary amount of time and additional staff to sift through every line of the budget. The budget bill, under which agencies currently function, is 171 pages long. The documents you’d have to read in order to understand it would fill several shelves. The time it would take to study and to question every line item does not exist.
As a result we have a “muddling through” budgeting system. The legislature muddles through the budget, spotting usually small items that offend their sensibilities, cutting here and there and adding here and there based mostly on what pressure group gets their attention at a critical moment.
In 1972 it was thought that a budget exceeding 100 million dollars required more legislative attention. Next year’s budget will approach 3.5 billion dollars. It’s time to take a look at creating a “vision-based budget.”
Instead of muddling through, what if state leaders took the time to create a vision. What do we want the state to be a decade from now? Would Wyoming’s future benefit from a world-class infrastructure of modern virtual as well as paved highways? How about early childhood education? Wouldn’t it be a true economic asset to have the best early childhood education system in the nation. What about tourism, public health, a well-qualified and committed work force, public and private?
Perishing may be too strong a word, but without as vision, we will just muddle through and at the end of another decade we will be wondering what happened to all the money that perished.