Wyoming is increasingly building a reputation for a big-government state. In fact, already in 2004 we were known to be right up there with Alaska (and the District of Columbia). Since then, we have kicked the Frontier State down from the throne, and we did it in good part thanks to the surge in local government employment: in Governor Freudenthal's second term alone, local governments expanded their employment by more than 14 percent.
This is a big problem for our state's future: it is not just the state government that must downsize itself permanently, but our local governments will have to do the same.
A good start of that process is to ask what our local governments should really be doing - in other words what functions governments can fill that cannot really be done better by the private sector. As a step toward answering that question, let us review some data on local government employment in Wyoming, courtesy of the Census Bureau.
First, here are the local government functions that have more than 100 full time employees, total for Wyoming, as of 2015:
|TABLE 1||Full time emp|
|Total - All Government Employment Functions||31,582|
|Police Protection Total||1,632|
|All other and unallocable||709|
|Other Government Administration||632|
|Parks and Recreation||530|
|Fire Protection Total||428|
|Judicial and Legal||414|
|Solid Waste Management||397|
In other words, two thirds of all local government employees provide entitlements - education and health care - while law enforcement (a core government function) account for about one tenth as many employees.
Next, let us look at the cost of payroll by the same categories:
|TABLE 2||Payroll cost|
|Total - All Government Employment Functions||1,765,432,404|
|Police Protection Total||90,546,960|
|All other and unallocable||34,567,140|
|Other Government Administration||31,362,936|
|Fire Protection Total||28,319,664|
|Parks and Recreation||25,015,776|
|Judicial and Legal||23,458,032|
|Solid Waste Management||17,797,284|
|Police Protection - Other||15,819,960|
|Housing and Community Development||3,174,516|
Employees in health care and education consume 76 percent of local-government payrolls. By comparison, law enforcement only earns seven percent of that same payroll.
The inescapable conclusion from this is, of course, that the path to slimmer local government runs through structural, permanent reforms to government education and government-provided health care.
Lastly, so far we have not accounted for part-time employees on local government payroll.
|Total - All Government Employment Functions||13,606|
|Parks and Recreation||1,094|
|Fire Protection Total||549|
|Other Government Administration||415|
|All other and unallocable||274|
|Police Protection Total||94|
|Solid Waste Management||83|
|Judicial and Legal||81|
|Housing and Community Development||21|
Again, education dominates.
It is worth keeping in mind that our state and local governments are fiscally integrated to a point where it is getting difficult to tell who is responsible for what functions. Our cities, towns, counties and school districts receive approximately 35 percent of their revenue from the state, with a heavy bias toward education. This means that any reforms to reduce local government must begin at the state level.
Let us keep this in mind as we closely follow all our legislative committee meetings, from today up until the 2018 legislative session. An active citizenry could help our elected officials consider the right kind of reforms - and avoid falling for the temptation to propose higher taxes (or an income tax...).