Green River Star -

Letter: Saying goodbye after 10 years

 


Dear Editor,

It has been an indescribable privilege to serve Uinta County citizens with the many legislators, staff, LSO, two governors and the many state agencies and their staff over the last 10 years. Only around 1,900 people have served as legislators since Wyoming became a state in 1890. I consider myself blessed to have been part of Wyoming’s state government, trying to help make the state a better place to live and do business in.

I say thanks to all who have served, those I had the privilege to serve with, and the many people who helped me learn how state government is supposed to work. The legislative process is incredible. It is very hard to get a bill passed, given all the steps a legislator must go through in the House and Senate to get a bill to the governor’s desk. Among the bills that I sponsored or co-sponsored, the highlight was passing legislation that stuck up for Second Amendment rights, including the right to carry concealed weapons without a permit. I am glad to report that I did not create many new laws to govern Wyoming. I feel we should get rid of a law every time we make a new law that will affect someone. Stopping bad bills is more important than passing new bills that become the laws we are governed by.

I have served during some interesting times.

I am very disappointed at the financial condition of our state. Over the last 10 years, we have expanded state government and the budgets of most agencies, including those of the five top elected officials. Legislators have allowed this to happen by thinking we can make the state better if we have more programs -- spending billions on technology and billions on state buildings, education buildings and UW buildings (with no increase in enrollment). Wyoming has more employees with high salaries and increases raises.

The governor allows contracts to be awarded without competitive bidding, which costs the state tens of millions of dollars. The Legislature and the governor spend more each year.

When the Legislature had more money than it could spend, spend it did. This caused state government to grow. We have about the same funding now that we had in 2002, but we have added many programs, reports, and employees (the state employs around 30,000) and increased salaries, especially for the higher paid employees, including salaries for the UW (which has 500 staff members making over $80,000).

Now with a huge decrease in revenues, the Legislature and governor do not have the funds to pay for what was created in past years. In the last three years, a minority of legislators have been saying we should not be expanding government. These legislators believe we should competitively bid contracts and slow state construction (last year’s construction totaled $700 million). Agencies should be restrained in their spending.

As a new legislative session approaches, we are faced with a big deficit, around $1 billion. Education faces a $400 million shortfall, our 15-year-old state prison needs major repairs ($80 million or build a new one for $150-plus million) and WYDOT needs millions. The Department of Health faces major expenses, including upgrades to the State Hospital. Some also say the Lander Resource Center needs repairs (although many others feel it needs to be closed as one of only two such facilities in the country). And yet Wyoming continues to add more legislative subcommittees, task forces, bureau. As we left our last budget session in March 2016, the Legislature did make some cuts, but again spent way too much (including $700 million on buildings which most say could have waited for better economic times) with hopes that our economic future would be better. Shortly after the Legislature adjourned, with the CREG report worse than projected, our governor could see we were in trouble and made more cuts to agencies.

Of course, the departments/agencies lamented this would hurt the services they provide, programs and education.

I have continually asked whether the state has a complete list of priorities ranked from highest to lowest.

So what is the remedy? The worst thing, the majority of Wyoming folks feel, is about to happen. While all legislators agree we need to make some cuts (perhaps enough to get us equal to our revenues), they feel the real solution is what we all said should not happen. That is, our leaders and some of the legislators want to raise your taxes of some kind (property, sales tax, etc.). All say “Cut government spending,” but they claim we can’t cut enough, so we have to raise taxes to pay for the state spending we have created. (Many legislators urged their colleagues in the past not to spend as heavily as we have and to cut costs instead. But enough legislators said we could continue to spend, so the Legislature did just that).

As I will not be returning to the Legislature, I want to urge the people of Uinta County and Wyoming to stay in contact with their legislators. Let them know how you feel about what is happening in state government, and with the state’s roughly 100 agencies and departments. They would appreciate your thoughts about bills, our financial situation, and the things that affect their daily life.

I again say thanks for the opportunity to serve Uinta County, parts of Sweetwater County and our great state, which I really love. God bless Wyoming and the United States.

Allen Jaggi

Lyman

 

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