Welcome to 2017 - can't have Champagne lifestyle on beer budget


My immediate thoughts about predicting the first part of Wyoming’s upcoming year 2017 include some not so joyous conclusions.

This is because the year starts with the Legislative session. Due to retirements of some experienced players and the unfortunate defeat of folks like Rosie Berger and Mary Throne, we find ourselves with a representative bunch that will have a difficult time.

While many of the legislators are pretty green, other folks active in our legislative process are super experienced. Wyoming has the most effective lobbyists in the world and this year they will shine brighter than ever. Hard to guess this early, but with the influence already displayed by our lobbyists in the past, this year will be their best ever.

Lobbyists are people hired by individuals, organizations, companies and industries to represent their interests when it comes to getting laws made or changed and influencing legislators. Our sessions are too short for many of these poor state representatives to fully grasp what is going on. We can’t afford to provide them individual aides; thus the lobbyists end up being their de-facto aides and confidants. That is how certain laws get passed and certain programs get cut. And sacred cows continue to be sacred.

Despite gloomy predictions, some forty days after it starts, the legislature will emerge with a balanced budget still in place for the biennium. And amid the wheeling, dealing and squealing, some important decisions will have been made and some critical directions will have been taken.

Although I am a fan of Gov. Matt Mead, I disagree with him on the size of the cuts that need to be made in state government. There are some agencies that could be cut in some areas by more than the 5 percent he recommends. No sane person likes to cut effective programs or take jobs away from good, hard-working effective people. But good managers will have to figure out compassionate ways to do this. Wyoming’s current level of state services and the size of its government is unsustainable in many areas.

Two conclusions need to be drawn from our current economic conditions:

First, if this is the new normal, it just might be the real normal. We must see today’s economic conditions as real life. The recent boom years from 2002 to 2014 were the anomaly.

Second, we must live within our means. We need to quit spending money as if we are still generating huge amounts of severance tax money from coal, oil and natural gas. Running government like a business means you spend less than you have coming in. Pretty simple, right?

Now hold on a minute, you might suggest. With President Donald J. Trump, are not happy days here again?

Well, yes and no. Over time, Trump’s policies with federal leasing, encouraging fracking, boosting coal and curbing the EPA, should boost production and thus raise severance tax revenue. But it will take years for this to take effect. It took years for Wyoming to get into this hole and it will take years to climb out of it.

In other 2017 predictions, we see candidates positioning themselves to run for governor in 2018 as Gov. Mead completes his second term. Secretary of State Ed Murray, State Treasurer Mark Gordon, retiring U. S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis and a host of others could be jockeying for a possible run.

It might also be easy to predict that thanks to Trump, we could see a huge amount of construction on highways and bridges here in the Cowboy State if he follows through with his promise to fix the country’s infrastructure.

In 2017, the biggest fun event will be a solar eclipse on Monday, Aug. 21. Could see 100,000 people coming to Wyoming to enjoy that unique experience. I keep expecting that some group will hold a “burning man” event surrounding it. Perhaps they could call it “burning cowboy?”

The original Burning Man is a wild annual event in the Nevada desert featuring crazy giant art and 70,000 wild-eyed folks frolicking at night in front of a gigantic burning man bonfire.

Before saying good-bye to 2016, I need to herald some other sports events besides our Wyoming Cowboys. How about the Broncos winning the Super Bowl? Or the Cubbies finally winning a World Series after a 108-year drought? Or the Cavs coming back in the last minutes of the seventh game against the team that had the best record in NBA history? Wow, what a year.

Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at http://www.billsniffin.com. He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written six books. His newest is “Wyoming at 125,” which is now on sale at fine bookstores. His books are available at http://www.wyomingwonders.com.


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