Fewer bills

Feb 22, 2012 By Steven R. Peck

The Wyoming Legislature has a bit less to do this year, and uncertainty about the economy is the reason.

First, a disclaimer: Never let it be said the volunteer lawmakers in the Wyoming Legislature are taking it easy during the current budget session in Cheyenne.

Only a legislator, a legislative staffer or spouse of a legislator can truly understand the work demands made of them. It is never less than heavy, and often it can be staggering.

But in one way there is a lighter workload this time around. The 2012 Legislature is a biennial budget session. That's when the basic spending blueprint for Wyoming is drawn up for the next two years. And the next two years aren't predicted to be among the better ones in terms of state revenue.

Natural gas production has been driving the state's economic vitality for a decade, but prices are in a slump at the moment. Budget forecasters say the depressed prices could linger for a year or more.

That means less tax revenue for Wyoming, and less money for the Legislature to use in budget planning. Consequently, say lawmakers, there are fewer bills being introduced, heard, debated, amended, voted up, voted down, passed, signed and/or vetoed.

No one will be complaining at the Capitol. The chore these men and women undertake during their short stint in Cheyenne is prodigious, even if there are fewer bills at the start of the session. In the end, roughly the same number of bills still probably will come to a vote as would in any other budget session. But this time, because of the realities of Wyoming's projected economy, there won't be so many to sift through early on. A lot of would-be spenders aren't even bothering to ask this year.

How long might this go on? Natural gas prices aren't going to jump high enough, or soon enough, to affect this year's legislative session, but things can change in a hurry.

It's still February, and it wouldn't take long for a 10-day cold snap to improve the situation, from one point of view at least. The consumers who pay the higher heating bills wouldn't see it that way, but the budget makers sure might.

Incidentally, it's not just cold weather that can increase the price of natural gas. Extra hot weather would as well. Gas is used to generate electricity at many of the huge power plants which supply the nation. And electricity demand is high in a hot summer as well, as overheated citizens reach for the air-conditioner switch.

A bitterly cold winter or a blistering summer aren't tops on most people's wish lists. But if we get either one in the next year or two, it probably would be good for the state's economy -- and the legislators could get back to their normal avalanche of work.

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