Thursday, May 24, 2018

Where Are the Candidates on Spending Cuts?

The tax issue is going to stay on top of this election cycle, and with it, the question of government spending. As I asked yesterday,
Instead of looking for new, permanent, structural tax increases, when is the Wyoming State Legislature going to task one of its committees with looking for new, permanent, structural spending cuts?
This is not just a rhetorical question. It is very much an assignment for our legislators for the 2019 session. And, of course, for our gubernatorial candidates. So far, the rich field of candidates has been increasingly supportive of my Tax Pledge; only Mark Gordon, Sam Galeotos and Foster Friess have yet to take it, or, as Hageman did, make an equivalent statement of similar strength. However, the candidates have yet to start talking about the spending side. We have seen some promising statements about holding back spending, reducing spending and practicing fiscal conservatism, and that is a good start. But we are now approaching a long, hot summer leading up to the August primary, and it is time for our candidates to give voters a better understanding of where they stand on structural, permanent spending cuts.

As an example of how the candidates reason, and where they could go from here, consider this report from the Casper Star Tribune, May 18:
Candidates for governor had no shortage of ideas for boosting the economy when asked by a pro-business group Wednesday [on May 16], most of them centered on building up Wyoming’s existing strengths in energy extraction, tourism and agriculture rather than striking off in bold, new directions. 
This is what I am concerned about. I am worried that our Republican candidates are playing it safe. However, playing it safe is not going to do Wyoming any good. Playing it safe means endorsing the status quo we have today on the spending side of the state budget. 

There is also another problem here. We will get to it in a moment as we get back to the Tribune story:
The Wyoming Business Alliance asked five Republican candidates and one Democratic candidate how they would diversify the economy. The group also asked how they would give a boost to Wyoming’s existing, natural resources-based industries and fix declining state revenue. “I worry so much that we spend a lot of time trying to figure out that great big thing that is going to cost the state a lot to do. And sometimes that works out and sometimes that doesn’t,” said State Treasurer Mark Gordon 
I'm sorry, Treasurer Gordon, but I don't understand what that means. Are you for or against something? 
Besides Gordon, two other Republicans — Jackson investor Foster Friess and Cheyenne attorney Harriet Hageman — called for first and foremost building on Wyoming’s strengths, including the coal, oil and natural gas extraction that supply about 70 percent of state revenue. 
As I have explained several times, it is not as high as 70 percent, but there is another noteworthy point here. The discussion about the state budget is always conducted in a manner that makes the state budget the center piece of the Wyoming economy. Even though the candidates participating in the discussion do not mean to, they de facto make it sound as if the private sector is there for government. 

There is a very important practical problem in this. By placing government at the center of the debate, we implicitly endorse the idea that government is a static entity with some sort of inherently merited existence. This is precisely the statist view of government, one that - I am sure - Mary Throne would be happy to sign on to. Conservatives, however, should not be so quick to do so.

Going back to the Tribune story, we actually find a couple of Republicans who sound more like they start from the private sector and reason their way out from there:
Sam Galeotos, a Cheyenne businessman, focused much more on technology as the answer to helping all areas of Wyoming’s economy. “Technology is not only the great equalizer in this world, it’s the great enabler,” Galeotos said. “As far as diversification goes in my mind, technology is everything in the state of Wyoming.” Hageman, who spoke after Galeotos, was skeptical that new tech business would significantly offset the industries that have supported Wyoming’s economy for decades. “You still have to recognize that minerals generate 50 times more revenue to the state of Wyoming in terms of meeting the state’s spending obligations than tech does,” Hageman said.
Interesting number. I am not necessarily questioning it, I would just like to know where she got it from. Again, though, I would urge the conservatives among the Republican candidates to put some healthy distance between themselves and the rhetoric that puts government in the center. 

The Tribune again:
Mary Throne ... was the only candidate to mention finding new ways to generate revenue, hinting that she might support new forms of taxation. Throne didn’t get into specifics, however, saying she would solicit ideas after becoming elected. “We need to build a tax structure that will support the economy of the future, not the economy of the past,” Throne said. “To me, it’s a very fundamentally conservative principle to talk about how you’re going to pay your bills.” 
As opposed to liberals, who spend first and worry about paying for it later. It is good that Throne has now come out full force as a tax hiker. That should tell every Republican candidate where they need to go on that issue.

Then the Tribune gets to Taylor Haynes:
Education, especially in technology, will go furthest to help the economy over the long run, said Laramie area physician and rancher Taylor Haynes. “If you build it, they will come. But what do you build? You build a diverse, highly skilled workforce,” said Haynes, a Republican candidate. 

Last but not least, Foster Friess, who, says the Tribune,
spoke in spiritual terms in describing his motivation to get involved as a candidate. “It would be an ultimate example of complete lack of gratitude. A complete lack of gratitude like, ‘OK God, thanks for the good things, now I’m going to have a good time.’ So I’m compelled,” Friess said.
That's all fine and good, but God is not going to pay my taxes for me. Nor is he going to fix the budget deficit. 

Perhaps we should treat Foster Friess as the entertainer who is in the race to make everyone else look serious. Which brings me back to the question I asked initially:
Instead of looking for new, permanent, structural tax increases, when is the Wyoming State Legislature going to task one of its committees with looking for new, permanent, structural spending cuts?
Can we perhaps get a few words from our candidates on this - a few words beyond the normal, general, fiscally conservative commitments?

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