CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming lawmakers emphasized the importance of honesty and courtesy in opening remarks Tuesday as they convened the general legislative session set to run until early March.
Conduct could become crucial as the Legislature faces projections of slack demand for Wyoming energy and tighter finances than they have in recent years.
Gov. Matt Mead's proposed supplemental budget for the fiscal year beginning in July calls for cutting state agencies an average of 6.5 percent — not counting one-time project spending — for a total reduction of more than $60 million.
Lawmakers previous passed a $3.2-billion state funds budget for the biennium.
In addition to budget cuts, State Senate President Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, said the state has to address how to proceed with the federal Affordable Care Act, education accountability issues and possibly raising the state fuel tax.
"We are a serious institution and we will take these issues head-on," Ross said.
Saying he was concerned to see a new era of vicious political tactics in recent state legislative races. Ross gave each senator a copy of a book on the Holocaust titled "How Do You Kill 11 Million People." He said the book essentially answers, "You lie to them."
"Speaking the truth should be the least we require from our elected leaders," Ross said.
Sen. Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, the new majority floor leader, will play a major role in deciding which bills get heard. He noted that state financial analysts predict that mineral prices are likely to plateau for perhaps the next decade.
"We still have a tax system that depends heavily on one sector," Nicholas said, referring to the state's heavy reliance on energy production.
In the House, Minority Floor Leader Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne, said politics in Wyoming are unique because "we all know we're all in this together."
On budget issues, Throne said lawmakers must examine decisions that were made in a different era, when the state had more revenue, and decide if those decisions still make sense.
Mead's budget proposal calls for redirecting a $130 million annual stream of energy tax revenues from permanent savings to the state's Legislative Stabilization Reserve Fund, or "rainy day fund,' where the money could be spent.
Throne said lawmakers need to look hard at how much the state is saving and why. "Before we continue to sock away even more taxpayer money, we owe the public a full and open debate," she said.
Mead is set to delivers his annual state of the state address on Wednesday. Both houses will get down to business after that.