Bad Time to Build a Pool

The 20-day legislative session ended with a budget for operation of state government, including schools and colleges.  However, no agreement could be reached on a construction budget, and we adjourned without an appropriation bill for state construction.  That saves, for now, $162 million.

It was a tough budget session.  Our state’s dependence on the energy industry for jobs and tax revenue is well known. Direct taxes on coal, oil and gas account for over half the state’s revenue.

The demand for coal has plummeted.  Wyoming’s coal production in the Powder River Basin has declined by over 20% in this decade and taxes paid on coal have fallen by a like amount.

Fracking has unleashed a torrent of cheap natural gas.  That is great for the US and world economies, but the low prices handicap Wyoming producers and state tax collections.

The Saudis and the Russians are in an oil price and production war which has sent prices, and production taxes, plummeting.

As the Legislature convened the coronavirus epidemic was just beginning.  In the last week of the session, the stock market plunged on virus-related fears.  A quarter of the state’s revenue derives from its stock portfolio.  Impaired Wall Street earnings further reduced the state’s anticipated revenues.

The only budget seemingly immune from pressure to reduce is K-12 education.  In fact, the automatic escalators in the K-12 funding formula, imposed under Supreme Court dictate, drove education spending $133 million higher for this budget.  This rate of spending increase outstrips the inflation rate.  How much of that reaches teachers and classroom instruction – or gets spent elsewhere – is a matter of concern.

Our biennial budget deficit rapidly approaches a half billion dollars, with the difference made up from our rapidly dwindling savings.

The failed budget for state construction included necessary maintenance on state government and college buildings as well as new construction.  Three proposed University of Wyoming projects could not be agreed upon: a new pool, reconstruction of the football stadium and an expansion of the Law School.

The proponents of same insisted on the inclusion of these projects in any construction budget.  The opponents, meaning an overwhelming majority of the Senate, felt it imprudent to spend tens of millions of dollars on this kind of construction during a budget collapse.

As a UW alum, I support the institution, but not for this kind of expenditure in this economic environment.

The negotiations stalled, with the UW project proponents firm in their insistence on including funding for the pool, stadium and law school.  On the last day of the session, we adjourned without a construction budget.  The next legislative session convenes in January of 2021 for a 40-day session.  We will see then how the economy, and our revenues, shake out.

Meanwhile, stay healthy.Dave Kinskey represents Wyoming Senate District 22 which consists of Johnson County and eastern Sheridan County. A businessperson and former Mayor of Sheridan, he can be reached during the legislative session at Dave.Kinskey@WyoLeg.gov

The Badge of The Grim Reaper

One of my Senate colleagues recently sported an unfamiliar lapel pin: the profile of the Grim Reaper, complete with a scythe. The Grim Reaper is an old symbol of death, and he uses the sickle to harvest the souls of the living.

I instantly knew the meaning of the lapel pin. In a recent media interview, the House leader referred to his side of the Legislature as “the golden goose” and the Senate as the Grim Reaper. He was commenting on the difference between the House and Senate versions of the state budget. In recent years, the Senate has been the more fiscally conservative branch of the state government. The House has spent more, often approving tax hikes as well.

When he read the House leader’s comments, my Senate colleagues took it upon himself to track down a firm that made, of all things, Grim Reaper lapel pins. He ordered a bag of them and distributed them freely to members of the Senate.

I accepted one and promptly put it on my coat. It is kind of funny, but I must admit I had second thoughts. It symbolizes division—us versus them. There’s enough of that in the United States today. It’s not as deep or acrimonious in Wyoming as it is in Washington, but we must be careful to avoid going down that path.

Several years ago, it was my honor to meet the late Carl Venne, at that time the Chairman of the Crow Nation.

“We must build bridges, not burn them,” he said.

We have some hard times ahead of us in Wyoming. Our wealth and jobs have often come from the coal, oil and gas industries. They’ve boomed and busted over the years, and are currently in a bust. This time, the bust may be worse than ever, perhaps even permanent. The War on Carbon energy continues unabated, and we bear the consequences in the Cowboy State.

I firmly believe that our best days are ahead. It will be a struggle, and there will be sacrifices. But to get to the best days, we must be careful to build, not burn, bridges.

The Grim Reaper lapel pin has been consigned to a dresser drawer. It remains a humorous reminder of a brief dustup in the Legislature. For now, though, the focus will be in setting aside divides and finding ways to work together for Wyoming’s future.

Dave Kinskey represents Wyoming Senate District 22 which consists of Johnson County and eastern Sheridan County. A businessperson and former Mayor of Sheridan, he can be reached during the legislative session at Dave.Kinskey@WyoLeg.gov.

Senator Kinskey welcomes Captain Icanberry to capitol; recommends military gun permit extension.

Even in a tough budget year, there are a few bright moments. One such was a visit to the Capitol by the Icanberry family of Kaycee.

Captain Matt Icanberry has served more than 26 months overseas in a combat zone. His deployments include southeast Asia, the Middle East, Iraq and Kuwait. Most recently, he served as a Training/Exercise Specialist for US Army Europe in Wiesbaden, Germany.

Before going full time with the military, he taught science for 15 years at Kaycee High School.

During his most recent overseas deployment his concealed carry weapon permit expired. Under Wyoming law, an expired permit cannot be renewed. Rather, the holder must go through the entire application process over again, as though they were applying for the first time. That includes fingerprinting, proof of firearms training or military experience, a criminal background check—and a fee.

Renewal while deployed overseas can be done, but, under our laws, it’s more of a hassle than it should be. Matt contacted me with some helpful suggestions about what might be done for future overseas military faced with the same situation.

My first point of contact was Senator Brian Boner of Douglas.  Brian served in the military and is knowledgeable on military matters — and is a genuinely helpful guy. Working with a staff attorney in the legislative service office, and with advice from the office of Major General Gregory Porter, the Adjutant General of the Wyoming National Guard, we crafted Senate File 105, “Concealed Weapons Permit Renewal-Military Duty.”

The bill delays the expiration of a concealed carry permit for active duty military and their spouses while overseas until six months after their return stateside.

The bill received bipartisan sponsorship in the Senate and the House and was introduced and referred for hearing to the Senate Committee for Transportation, Highways & Military Affairs.

I contacted Matt to see if he might be able to share with the Committee his experience and the reason for the bill. He told me his two teenage daughters, Greere and Gwendolyn, would be in Cheyenne with a youth group learning about the legislative process. The Committee Chairman agreed to schedule the hearing on a day when all three could be present.

To make the reunion complete, Matt’s wife Amy and their son Grady drove to the capital from Kaycee.

From the Senate gallery, the family observed a bit of the debate on the state budget. At an appropriate time, from the Senate floor, I had the honor of introducing them, and the family received a rousing standing ovation from the entire Senate. On break, I was able to visit with the entire family. All three kids are precocious, and Matt and Amy are good people.

Later that day Matt testified about Senate File 105 to the Committee, which made a unanimous “Do Pass” recommendation to the entire Senate.

Seeing the Icanberry family in Cheyenne was a nice high point to an otherwise arduous week. I’m grateful for a state full of active, engaged citizens who are interested in good legislation and the future of our great State of Wyoming.

Dave Kinskey represents Wyoming Senate District 22 which consists of Johnson County and eastern Sheridan County. A businessperson and former Mayor of Sheridan, he can be reached during the legislative session at Dave.Kinskey@WyoLeg.gov.

Learning the Ropes

“The Legislature does its work by committee,” observed the late John Patton, a former local state legislator.

John passed away four years ago. He’d served in the Legislature for a decade in the 60s and 70s, and resumed his service in 2009. He passed away at the age of 84 while serving in the 2105 legislative session.

I never fully appreciated what John meant until I began to serve in the Legislature. The state of Wyoming budgets on a two-year cycle and spends $9.3 billion during that time in state and federal funds. That is $16,000 for every man, woman and child in the state, every two years, or $8,000 per year.

Government is big business, even in conservative Wyoming. It’s far bigger than it should be.  That size is a problem—not just for Wyoming, but for our nation.

The scope of government is such that legislating requires the work to be divvied up.  The Legislature has 10 standing committees: Judiciary; Appropriations; Revenue; Education; Agriculture; State and Public Lands & Water Resources; Travel, Recreation, Wildlife & Cultural Resources; Corporations, Elections & Political Subdivisions; Transportation, Highways & Military Affairs; Minerals, Business & Economic Development; and, Labor, Health & Social Services.

Thus, “the Legislature does its work by committee.”

Each committee has five to seven members, each of whom try to develop expertise in the committee’s subject area. During the legislative session, all bills are assigned to the relevant committee for study, and committees recommend to the House or the Senate whether to pass or amend a bill.

Committees do not offer the final word, but a place to start. Legislators that serve multiple terms typically will rotate service among committees, giving them a broader understanding of the issues facing Wyoming.

I was initially appointed to the Wyoming Senate to serve the unexpired term of John Schiffer.  John passed away from cancer, and had served over two decades in the Legislature representing Johnson and Sheridan counties. The list of committees on which he served or chaired is remarkable.

John was described to me by the late Tom Kinnison, one of his peers, as “the most effective legislator I ever served with.” High praise indeed, given that Tom himself was an accomplished legislator.

After he’d died, John was given an award posthumously recognizing his service. His wife, Nancy, accepted it on his behalf and gave an insightful talk about how he’d become so effective.  She described years of work and ceaseless learning. She gave hope to every new legislator in attendance that, with dedication and persistence, they too might develop a similar mastery.

I contacted Nancy a month or so after John’s passing to see if John had any files I could review to better prepare myself for my first legislative session. She told me, “What you need, he took with him.”

I now understand more fully what she meant. The current legislative session is my fifth. Properly representing Johnson and Sheridan counties demands my best efforts. I have learned much along the way, but there is always more to learn.

Dave Kinskey represents Wyoming Senate District 22 which consists of Johnson County and eastern Sheridan County. A businessperson and former Mayor of Sheridan, he can be reached during the legislative session at Dave.Kinskey@WyoLeg.gov.