Saturday, July 2, 2016

Budget cuts and pay raises

Let me understand. The legislature cut or eliminated funding for critical programs on which the elderly, disabled and low-income people relied. The Governor approved those cuts.

Not long afterward Governor Matt Mead secretly gave select members of his staff huge pay raises. The media learned about it anyway. Mr. Mead’s chief of staff Kari Gray’s salary suddenly increased from an already-more-than-sufficient $126,000 to $175,000 per year, which is more than the over-paid members of Congress receive. Other top officials in Mead’s office also received substantial raises.

A few weeks later the Governor ordered state agencies to cut their already reduced budgets by nearly a quarter of a billion dollars. The Governor said these budget cuts were “necessary” knowing they will result in 700 private sector job losses.

After this revelation, Governor Mead defended his indefensible raises given his staff. Other hardworking state employees haven’t seen a pay increase for two years and none is in the foreseeable future.

But Mr. Mead said that’s okay. The Governor disingenuously claimed, “These raises were awarded in a better revenue environment,” said Mead, adding, “They were in place prior to the current fiscal crisis.” C’mon Governor. You gave your staff these raises literally days before demanding that state agencies cut their budgets. You gave these raises after more than 500 coal miners lost their jobs because of the declining energy prices that triggered state budget cuts.

He said hardworking state employees deserve more. The only people working hard enough, in his opinion, are those with whom he drinks coffee all day. No other state employee got a raise.

His decision to give special treatment to his staff during dreadful fiscal times and the ham-handed way he defends it boggles the mind.

By the way, the term 'boggle' comes from the word 'bogle', a word for a goblin or specter. Horses were said to 'boggle' when they made a sudden jerky movement, as if startled by something human eyes couldn't see. That seems to fit the Governor’s decision. Mr. Mead was startled to find the media learned of these secret raises and made “sudden jerky movements” to defend them.

The raises he gave his personal staff are simply wrong-headed. They are indefensible in light of the sacrifices being made by state employees and the citizens they serve.

While his personal staff received raises, the elderly and the disabled lost their sales tax rebates. Low-income families lost much of the energy assistance funding that helped them pay utility bills. Medicare patients with severe dental problems lost benefits to pay the dentist. Family literacy centers were closed and three dozen employees laid off.

While the Governor’s staff was getting raises, developmental preschools lost 6.7 million dollars. Mental health and substance abuse programs among others administered by the Division of Behavioral Health will lose $.6 million. Senior services were cut another $1.3 million and suicide prevention programs will be crippled. The Wyoming Department of Family Services will lose nearly $14 million dollars from a tight budget designed to provide a safety net for at-risk children and families.

While Mr. Mead was giving raises to his staff, the University of Wyoming declared a “fiscal crisis” as its leaders deal with budget cuts that will result in layoffs.

If the Governor’s staff cared about the suffering these budget cuts will cause citizens, they would refuse to accept them. If the Governor cared about the suffering that will accompany these budget cuts, he’d rescind them.

If the Governor had his ear to the ground, he’d realize there are not many people who work with his staff who think they deserve a raise in any time, much less when the economy is crashing and others are paying the price.

These raises are reprehensible. Though the Governor heard the complaints about these raises, he’s turned a deaf ear to them.

The pay raises and the Governor’s defense of them are signals that he’s enjoyed all the public service he can stand and is ready to return to the ranch.

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