Speaker of the House Kermit Brown (R-Laramie), shown here earlier in the session, supported the Vision 2020 bill to study Wyoming's savings and spending. The House Revenue Committee voted the bill down 6-3, despite its popularity with leadership in both chambers. (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile)

A bill to study Wyoming’s savings and spending policies was rejected on Monday as premature.

The House Revenue Committee voted down the Vision 2020 bill on a vote of 6-3. They did so after hearing public testimony that lawmakers should instead look at past revenue studies before embarking on a new effort. The vote ends a formal discussion of a bill intended to closely examine the state’s revenue and expenditures — at least for now.

The volatility of oil prices and an uncertain future for coal was a main driver for a review of the state’s budgeting. At the same time, lawmakers aimed to settle once and for all the question of how much money to save in the “rainy day” account and when the state should spend from the account. Other savings accounts would also have been reviewed under the bill.

Speaker of the House Kermit Brown (R-Laramie) presented the bill to the committee Monday. “We need to all participate in a process that will give us a better understanding of these savings accounts, why we have them, and what is the appropriate level of funding for them,” Brown said.

Senate File 122-Vision 2020 was sponsored by Senate President Phil Nicholas (R-Laramie), along with leaders from both the minority and majority parties in both chambers. The bill would have created a committee to discuss target savings levels for the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account and other funds, and reexamine state expenditures.

Larry Wolfe, an attorney for Holland & Hart, and a long-time lobbyist, spoke against the bill, saying it didn’t solicit enough public input.

“This bill tries to do way too much,” Wolfe said. “The word public appears in one place in one word, with the assumption it is only the Legislature that wants to talk about these issues. There is no provision for public hearings and for anyone to comment on these incredibly important reports.”

Wolfe offered a series of seven amendments to the bill, but the committee opted to vote the measure down before considering any of the changes.

Lawmakers should take a closer look at previous revenue studies as part of the Vision 2020 effort, said former Rep. Pete Illoway (R-Cheyenne), and Buck McVeigh, a former administrator of the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information Economic Analysis Division who now chairs the Wyoming Taxpayers Association.

Paramount among those studies is Tax 2000, which suggested Wyoming’s fiscal stability would benefit from an income tax. Another effort, the 1999 “Macro” study, was updated in 2005.

Brown said he had no objections to public involvement in the Vision 2020 effort, but he pushed back against an assertion by Wolfe that lawmakers shouldn’t serve on the committee. “This is representative government, and we are the ones in the end who are going to set the level of funding,” Brown said. “It is our duty to sit down and decide this and not abdicate this to a committee whose motives are all challenged.”

Brown said he didn’t know why lawmakers on the committee voted against the bill. He didn’t know how the legislature might move forward with the idea.

It’s possible the Legislature’s  Management Council could propose the study as an interim topic.

House Revenue Committee Vote on SF 122

6 no, 3 aye.

NO: Reps. Jim Blackburn (R-Cheyenne), Roy Edwards (R-Gillette), Mark Jennings (R-Sheridan), Bunky Loucks (R-Casper), Tom Reeder (R-Casper), Sue Wilson (R-Cheyenne)

AYE: Reps. JoAnn Dayton (D-Rock Springs), David Northrup (R-Powell), Chairman Mike Madden (R-Buffalo)

Gregory Nickerson worked as government and policy reporter for WyoFile from 2012-2015. He studied history at the University of Wyoming. Follow Greg on Twitter at @GregNickersonWY and on www.facebook.com/GregoryNickersonWriter/

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