Rep. Martha Lawley talks balanced budget

Barbara Anne Greene

Rep. Martha Lawley (R-Worland) recently spoke of the hard work that was required to pass a balanced budget.
“The budget session itself was interesting,” she said. “I say it that way because there were a lot of things going on. There were many different ways people were describing what was happening. Part of that was due to the fact Wyoming state budget is complicated. People often look at it and analyze it like it is a business.”
It is very different in many aspects, she said, and this leads to confusion. Some people don’t understand how the budget works. “For example, there are two kinds of appropriations in the Wyoming budget. You have appropriations for expenditures and appropriations for savings or transfer of funds from one account to another. Both are considered appropriations.”
Some think appropriations are only expenditures and have talked about the high appropriation numbers. “When in effect, the appropriations numbers themselves coming out of the general fund were not that high. There were headlines that said, ‘There is a $1.1 billion difference between the House budget and the Senate budget.’ That was true if you add the expenditures and savings appropriations together. The actual expenditure appropriations that were in dispute between the House and Senate was about $350 million.”
Lawley explained that the second joint appropriations conference committee that was appointed cut it to $200 million. This resulted in the difference of $150 million from the House budget that wasn’t in the Senate budget.
“It is important to realize sometimes that people hear those things and get an incorrect view of what we are talking about,” she said. “So much of the dispute during the budget was about putting money from one pocket of the state into another pocket of the state. That puts it more in perspective.”
The representative expounded that one of the reasons for the growth in the budget was because of COVID money from the federal government. “When that comes in, we have to account for that in our budget. Some was the authorization of spending the federal money on certain programs that qualify.” This meant moving those federal funds from one account to another. Not necessarily spending it. She gave the example of reimbursement in education. A complex set of transactions can go on in Wyoming state government to have transparency of accounting for every penny no matter where it is coming from.
Lawley expressed concern about how much confusion there is. People have assumed that all the money in the state budget is taxpayer dollars. Some of it is, but some of it is federal money.
Lawley said she doesn’t believe that anyone was totally satisfied with the budget. At the same time, the legislators did the best they could and did what was constitutionally required by passing a balanced budget, she said.
Another misunderstanding Lawley wanted to clarify was the difference between local property taxes and the tax money appropriated in the state budget.
“Those are two different things. The reason that is important is clarity. The lack of clarity has been used by people angry at Cheyenne about local property taxes.”
Lawley believed in and supported every one of the property tax relief bills. She is committed to reforming property taxes. “However, when we allocate money for property tax relief, we are mostly using the mineral industry tax dollars that they pay. Somewhere around 60% of the money the state of Wyoming receives in revenue comes from the mineral industry. We had a great need in the property tax area. We needed to address it and we did with five good bills.”
Over a couple year period, those mineral taxes equate to over $300 million dollars in state revenue money. Lawley is concerned about those who continue to suggest giving back property tax money to citizens.
“I do support wholly and wholeheartedly property tax relief. There is an urgent need in the property tax area,” she said. “This idea that the state is giving back to the property taxpayers the tax they pay the state, that is not what is happening. There is a local stream of revenue, the property taxes. Some special sales tax. The state has its own source of revenue. It does not come from local property taxes.”
Lawley, whose term expires next January, said she will be running for reelection.