The Bible says that “where there is no vision, the people perish.” If that’s true, Wyoming’s future is endangered. The flawed budget built by the Joint Appropriations Committee (JAC) has no vision and will cause some people to perish.
Bertrand Russell once said, “The mark of a civilized human being is the capacity to read a column of numbers and weep.” I had no idea what he meant until I read what the JAC did to Governor Mead’s carefully considered budget.
The JAC budget is a huge victory for the philosophy like-mindless conservatives. When they finished their work, champagne bottles were uncorked at the Liberty Group offices just as in the Denver Bronco’s locker room of Broncos following the Super Bowl. But if you’re a low-wage working family in need of healthcare, hoping your child receives a quality education, or if a loved one requires emergency mental health services, your team just got blown out.
Governor Mead’s proposal exhibited concern for the state’s current fiscal predicament and a vision for the future. The Governor deals with these matters on a fulltime basis. Part time legislators tinker with them on occasion, substituting their pseudo-knowledge for the Governor’s working knowledge.
In the process, legislators endanger the future of the people of Wyoming. Hopefully, their colleagues will take a more considered approach.
It starts with the decision not to expand Medicaid. Doing so saves taxpayers $33 million. Having made their ill-conceived choice, legislators had to mine the Governor’s budget for cuts to make up the difference.
They ripped millions of dollars from the K-12 school fund. Wyoming politicians like to think the world will return of the fossil fuels based economy. It won’t. The world is going on without coal. If the state is to make a successful shift to a new economy, a continuing commitment to quality education is vital. The JAC doesn’t see it that way.
The Committee cut $4 million from the tax rebate program providing help to elderly and disabled citizens for years. They eliminated nearly $12 million required to meet the needs of mentally ill persons who pose such a risk to themselves and others that they must involuntarily hospitalized. They ended a literacy program altogether.
These draconian cuts were necessitated by the game legislators play with Medicaid expansion. The obsessive Republican hatred of President Obama and the Affordable Care Act has led to the state cutting off its nose to spite its face, as my Mother used to say.
I was struck by what Secretary of State Ed Murray said at the annual Right-to-life Rally this month. Reports quoted Mr. Murray. “As rich and strongly as our God has blessed us. We have become poor and weak in this country in the defense of those who are vulnerable.”
Most legislators who voted to cut education, funds for the elderly and disabled, mental health services, and literacy programs while refusing Medicaid expansion share the views of the right-to-life movement. However, their budget doesn’t reflect much concern for the vulnerable once they leave the womb.
Governor Matt Mead deserves a great deal of credit for sculpting a thoughtful budget in the face of tough economic forecasts. He drafted a proposal that has an opportunity to move Wyoming safely into the oncoming storm.
Governor Mead’s budget assured continuing improvements in education while meeting the healthcare needs of low income working families, the elderly and the disabled as well as those with severe mental illness. His budget was more than a set of numbers on a stack of pages. It signaled the state that we could make it through tough times without ignoring the vital needs of the people.
Sure these are lean times. Budget restraints are necessary. Hard choices must be made. But the Appropriations Committee hasn’t made hard choices. They just hacked away. Their budget is akin to the difference between the work of an executioner using a guillotine and a skilled surgeon using a scalpel.
They have shown no capacity to make visionary choices.