The Sublette County Journal
Volume 5, Number 21 - 1/18/01
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
As the Wyoming Legislature convened last week, it was reported that after being at over $180 million in the hole last fiscal year, the state is now on the plus side at a whopping $694 million in the black. That is an $874 million turnaround in a year's time, mostly due to the booming sectors of fossil fuels mineral production statewide. Sales tax revenues increased on the average as well and though some of the state's residents are seeing more in their own pockets, the financial windfall to the state is not an indication that the majority of the citizens are having the same kind of prosperity.
The governor was stammering in disbelief and delight in the press conference and said that he thought most people couldn't comprehend $694 million. He followed up with a remark that the state government (executive and legislative branches) deals with those kinds of numbers all the time when working on budgets and state spending issues that total around the billion dollar mark. (My translation: we, the bureaucrats understand, you the regular people don't). All the discussion leading up to the session this year has been centered around an amount of revenue that exceeds the current budget, but no one until last week knew it would be the biggest money influx in state history. Now, what are they going to do with all that cash?
That's easy, they're going to spend it. Oh, there will be some responsible thinking legislators that push for putting a big chunk of it away in the Permanent Minerals Trust Fund that Guv Ed so wisely signed off on so many years ago. That actually may happen, though it will probably be only a pittance compared to the total amount of money available. Every state agency is rubbing its hands together and licking their chops in anticipation of digging in and getting a "fair share."
Teachers' salaries do need to be adjusted upward, though there is more to the teacher shortage issue than money. There are other critical reasons why we're losing good teachers, one of which is the burden of the huge time and paperwork requirements on teachers to meet the accountability requirements mandated by the state. In districts where there is no staff personnel to handle the full-time job of curriculum development and accountability reporting that is required, teachers are having to use hours that should be spent in the classroom and lots of their personal time to meet redundant state reporting requirements. The teachers I have talked to are all for accountability, but the system for carrying it out is very flawed. The accountability system is and has become a full-time job in and of itself and we aren't paying anyone to do it properly.
The other issue that the Legislature needs to address in a big way this time is the preservation of our water. One only need look at the recent power shortages and the insatiable thirst of the southwestern states to foresee that someone is going to go after our water sooner or later. We need to be prepared for that, by storing that precious commodity and selling it in its raw form or better yet, generating power right here and selling that. Most important, the state of Wyoming must be ready to exercise the power the law says it has to decide if, when and how we will part with our water.
I say, put at least half of the surplus into the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund, get the teachers up to a more acceptable salary and get the necessary people in place in each district to do all the busywork the law pushed on the schools in the name of accountability. And, implement a solid plan to head off a rush on the state's water from outside. Maybe by focusing on these few big items, the Legislature can accomplish something meaningful this session.
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