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The Structured Exit Featured
And now it is official - Senate File 0122 now formally proposes the formation of a Skyfall 2020 commission:
An act relating to the administration of government; creating the Vision 2020 comprehensive expenditure and revenue review; providing for oversight of the review by the management council of the Wyoming legislature; creating the Vision 2020 comprehensive expenditure and revenue review advisory panel; creating areas of review; providing for the creation of task forces as specified; providing for appointment of members to the advisory panel and task forces; providing for assignment of duties as specified; providing for reports; providing an appropriation; and providing for an effective date.
It is good that some legislators have realized the severity of the state's fiscal future. Wyoming needs a comprehensive revision of everything from the state's mono-industrial economy to the fact that we have the highest government employment ratio of all the 50 states. Big bureaucracies and critical dependency on one industry is not a good recipe for future growth and prosperity. Yet it is the cold, hard truth about the Wyoming economy as it looks today.
The question is what the Sky-is-falling 2020 commission is going to actually recommend. The default prediction, based on decades of experience with how politicians handle economic crises, is that the commission will tell Wyoming taxpayers that the sky is falling, seas are rising and cat-size locusts will eat our iPads, but if we all just agree to a state income tax everyone will be happy.
Happiness will be particularly strong among lawmakers who won't have to pass tough spending cuts.
The problem is that tax hikes won't do it. Despite what some pundits may have us believe, higher taxes is the last thing Wyoming needs. The absence of an income tax is one of the few economic variables we have going for us as a state.
What remains is, needless to say, the spending side of the equation. But here, too, it is important to avoid falling for welfare-statist rhetoric: those who proselytize more efficiency in government as the solution to the state's budget crisis will find that their attempt at preserving government, albeit in more affordable shape, is only a stopgap solution to the next budget crisis.
Making government more affordable is a feeble attempt at saving a welfare state that is inherently unaffordable. (For an excellent summary of this argument, see Michael Tanner's foreword to my book Industrial Poverty.) It is akin to asking bureaucrats to run faster and make more decisions per work day. There can certainly be some gains from that kind of so called productivity improvement, but once the maximum of savings is reached - without touching the quality of the product that government provides - more "reforms" for more efficiency will inevitably result in quality losses.
Stepping over the line into quality deterioration is an equally unsustainable solution. A poor-quality government is not a government that taxpayers can afford anymore than a government that delivers quality at today's levels.
The problem that proponents of the efficiency solution overlook is that spending programs that government provides - in other words its promises to the citizenry - remain in place. Those programs have built-in cost-increase parameters: teachers, expected to deliver the same or even better quality education, need regular pay increases; computer software and hardware in our schools need regular upgrades; tax-paid health care must continue to keep up with advancements in medical technology, treatment procedures, etc.
Again: if the welfare statist is ready to see teacher salaries depreciate or bar Medicaid from covering new medicines and treatment, then he or she is advocating a deterioration in government quality.
The only long-term solution to our looming state budget problems is to reform away government spending programs. This means a structured exist from promises such as public education, Medicaid and welfare. A structured exit does two things:
a) It permanently ends taxpayers' responsibility for defined spending programs; and
b) It provides a predictable transition to a private solution, a transition that does not inflict immediate financial hardship on those who currently depend on government with nowhere else to go.
A structured exit from welfare-state entitlements replaces unaffordable government programs with free-market based solutions. This is the route Wyoming needs to take in order to make it through the stormy budgetary waters that lie ahead.
In the coming months Republic Free Choice will roll out a series of publications outlining the theory and the policy practice of a structured exit for Wyoming. Stay tuned.
This morning the House Revenue Committee passed HB0075 and HJ004, both proposing a so called Article V venue to put a balanced-budget amendment on the U.S. constitution. The two bills share the same goal, and the organizations that provide the background material - Compact for America (HB75) and the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force (HJ4) - are for all intents and purposes fellow travellers. There is one major difference, though, between the two alternatives: the Compact model comes with a ready-to-go amendment; the Task Force, on the other hand, would leave it to the Article V Convention to draft the amendment.
I recently wrote a blog entitled Keeping Kids Out of Jail which led into an entire series including the Troubling Trend of Elementary School Arrests and finally to the Wyoming School Safety Issues That Every Citizen Should Know series. This week we return to the consideration of what can be done preventatively to keep our children on-track and out of trouble.
More bills to keep an eye on Featured
More bills to keep an eye on, as the 2015 general session gets rolling.
HB 32 allows the medical use of hemp extract when obtained by law for treatment of intractable epilepsy. The good news is that the department of health "shall issue" the requisite permit, so it will exercise no discretion. It is a start, and a very good bill for the purpose.
SF 38 adds the use of controlled substances prescribed by a "licensed practitioner" to the list of first offenses which would be eligible for probation and possible dismissal of the charge. A very good start!
The state budget problems that I have been warning about since last summer have finally caught up with our state lawmakers. Those who did not hear the wake-up call in the October CREG report certainly woke up to the alarm bells in the January report, which I analyzed on Monday:
With a predicted General Fund revenue increase of 1.2 percent per year, our state lawmakers have some very tough decisions to make, this session as well as next. This situation will require much more than stopgap measures and reliance on the federal government. It will take drastic, structural, permanent reforms to government spending.