My call to action yesterday, asking our elected fiscal conservatives to go on the political offense, got some well needed attention. Wyoming cannot wait anymore. Without decisive action on the spending side of the state budget, we are steaming straight into the abyss of fiscal panic.
I was going to line up some examples of what this means, but a reader (thank you!) sent a link to an article from The American Spectator about the fiscal crisis in Louisiana. It actually serves as a perfect example of what happens when political invertebrates combine fiscal sloppiness with legislative inertia. Explains the Spectator:
The announcement this week that letters from Louisiana’s Department of Health would go out to elderly Medicaid patients in nursing homes across the state — some 20,000 people — warning them of possible eviction due to the budget crisis at the Capitol in Baton Rouge has now made national news. It’s the latest in a long-running game of chicken between John Bel Edwards, the only Democrat governor of a Deep South state, and a Republican-controlled House of Representatives which is burnishing a recent tradition of fiscal conservatism largely foreign to an edifice built by Huey Long.
Remove the party labels from the people involved, and we are fairly close to where Wyoming is going to find itself very soon. The big question, of course, is what the crisis deniers in our legislature - those who want to continue spend as usual - are going to do when our state goes into fiscal panic mode.
Will they send out eviction notices to elderly patients on Medicaid?
The immediate reaction to questions like this is two-fold. First, it is said that we have no crisis, that this is just a dip and we just have to ride it out. Once that magnanimously ignorant argument has been refuted, the second response comes in the form of a reference to our state's fat investment portfolio.
Sure, we have money in the bank that Louisiana does not. The problem is that you can only spend a saved dollar once, and since last year's credit downgrade for Wyoming it is a pretty darn bad idea to rely on savings for current expenditures. Once we have spent down our savings to a certain degree, we are, namely, going to end up on the financial junkyard. That is where countries, states and other jurisdictions end up when elected spendoholics have been allowed to live in long enough a denial bubble.
One of the problems in Louisiana is that they accepted Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. We have not done that in Wyoming, but, quite frankly, we did not need it to get ourselves into deep fiscal trouble. We have a costly school system as well as a Medicaid that is in bad need of reform.
In fairness to some well-intended legislators who have not yet reached a high enough level in their fiscal crisis awareness, Wyoming does have a problem with transparency. A recent study by the Federation of State Public Interest Research Groups, U.S. PIRG, ranks Wyoming dead last in precisely that category, fiscal transparency. For example,
Four states fail to meet the basic standards of online spending transparency. For example, Wyoming’s checkbook lacks a fully functional search feature, while Hawaii has not posted any spending data for years after 2016.
As far as "providing online access to government spending data", our grade is F and our score is a 35, by a handsome margin the worst score in the country. We are a full eleven points behind the second-worst state, Alaska.
At the other end of the scale, Ohio and West Virginia score 98 with an A+ grade, with Minnesota closely behind in third place.
It is because of the lack of transparency in our state's finances that I consistently use federal sources for my data on government spending in Wyoming. Since the state cannot lie to the federal government without risking serious consequences, and since the federal government uses the same standards across the board in its data collection, those are much more reliable sources.
However, we should not have to go to the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Education or the Bureau of Economic Analysis to find out how our legislators here in Cheyenne spend our money. It goes without saying that we need a massive transparency reform in our state.
At the same time, we cannot wait for that to happen before we start working on the big spending items in the state budget. We simply do not have that time. We need to advance on all fronts, and we need to do it now.
If not, our next governor is going to have to panic-cut the state budget. Panic cuts throw people who depend on government, out in the cold with no other options. Orderly, structural spending reforms, by contrast, provide a pathway from government dependency to self support and independence of taxpayers without causing the harm that panic driven cuts do.
Think school choice vs. public-school monopoly with drastic budget cuts.
We still have a little bit of time to choose. What's it going to be, Wyoming?