Saturday, March 9, 2013

If the governor won't lead, the legislature will!

The legislature wasn’t satisfied with taking away Cindy Hill’s job. Now they’re after Matt Mead’s. In fairness, Mead hasn’t demonstrated a desire to lead. He’s acquiesced to the legislative branch on everything from Medicaid expansion to budgeting for the Game and Fish and Transportation Departments. It’s time for this governor to decide whether he really wants his job enough to do it rather than allowing a group of powerful legislators to lead a coup.

The latest attempt to usurp the governor’s duties came when the legislature’s Management Council decided it could bypass the governor and order state agencies to act. That’s is clearly not their prerogative but it will be up to the governor to assert that it is his.

Initially a budget footnote demanded that on top of recent state budget cuts and federal sequestration, the agencies expend more time and resources planning for yet another round of cuts that may never even be required. The legislature wanted agencies to plan for mythological reductions of 4, 6 and 8 percent for the next budget cycle.

The governor vetoed the footnote saying it doesn’t make sense to require agencies that have more than enough work to do, to spend time on a meaningless exercise when the state has no idea whether cuts of any size will become necessary. The legislature didn’t attempt to override the veto. They knew they didn’t have enough support.

A veto override would have required two-thirds of both houses, about 60 votes. Instead, they waited until the session adjourned. Then the Management Council met and imposed the same requirement the governor had vetoed. The backdoor through the Management Council required only a majority of its 13 members.

Senators Phil Nicholas and Tony Ross told the media they didn’t really see any difference between what the Management Council is requiring and the language the governor vetoed. Really? The difference is respect for the process and the separation of powers. Ignoring both is fast becoming the defining characteristic of the majority of the Wyoming legislature.

The voters have decided that they want a legislative branch made up of almost entirely one-party. Not only are 85% of all legislators members of that party, most of them are elected with no opposition.  Add to that formula a governor who has been reluctant to lead and you have a certain prescription for legislative overreach.

Even though they want to run the executive branch, there is not a single member of the Management Council who has ever served in it. It’s easy for folks like Senator Ross to say it's “healthy” for state agencies to plan for cuts. Neither he nor his colleagues have ever done it. They have no appreciation whatsoever for what it means when the legislature continues to add unnecessarily to the workload. They are happy to cut budgets without taking any responsibility for cutting programs and state employee duties. Each session they add more responsibilities while reducing the number of employees available to do the heavy lifting.

Mead is right when he told legislators it simply makes no sense to go through all the work of planning for 2, 4 and 6 percent cuts long before the state’s budget analysts arrive at their projections. But legislators operate from that old maxim, “No job is too difficult for those who don’t have to do it.”

As Rep. Ken Esquibel said, legislators of Mead’s own party have drawn the line in the sand. Mead has allowed them to run the executive branch for his first two years. Why not his last two? Senator Nicholas made the threat to Mead and the executive branch very clear. If agencies don’t comply, lawmakers will axe their budgets across the board.

In many ways, on many levels, it’ll be especially interesting to see how the governor responds to this usurpation. Maybe he doesn’t even consider it a threat. But now we’ll see whether he really wants the job or whether he’ll give yet another piece of it to the legislature.

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