EVANSTON — Four state representatives, whose constituents include Uinta County residents, were on hand to answer questions during the first quarter legislative breakfast, hosted by the Evanston Chamber of Commerce.
Sens. Stan Cooper and Paul Barnard along with Reps. Garry Piiparinen and Allen Jaggi met with Uinta County residents on Tuesday morning to answer questions, address concerns and share their experiences from the recent budget session in Cheyenne.
Addressing the crowd first was Sen. Paul Barnard, R-Evanston.
“It was a fast and furious session,” Barnard said. “Some of the bills got passed fast, and it made me furious.”
Barnard shared some of his frustrations, coming out of the budget session.
“The senior citizen budget was cut by $1 million. The JAC (joint appropriations committee) restored $500,000 but we still needed $490,000. So I talked to the governor and told him how it would hurt the people.”
Barnard said the governor agreed not to oppose any legislation to restore funding for senior citizens.
“Another thing that upset me was SF 102, the disability waiver,” Barnard said.
He said that although he tried to turn the bill around so that case managers could work with providers, it was the last bill to be heard.
“The worst bill was SF 106, the Cindy Hill Bill,” Barnard said. “I’m on the education committee and we are having a meeting in Cheyenne on April 25, to decide what should happen to Cindy Hill. I am going to vote for Superintendent Hill’s total duties to be returned to her.”
Barnard added that the committee could decide to give her a mix of duties, blended with the director of instruction, or they could remove the superintendent position altogether.
What is known is that the debacle has cost Wyoming taxpayers more than $1 million.
Sen. Stan Cooper, R-Kemmerer, said that his district contains six school districts and 11 towns.
“I received nearly 3,000 [e-mails] in 20 days,” Cooper said. “If our constituents send an e-mail, we generally respond as fast as we can.”
Cooper said legislators voted more than 1,200 times in 20 days. Originally, the legislature faced 425 bills. Eventually, 136 were passed.
“Thirty of those bills had to do with education,” he said. “Don’t let people tell you that the legislature doesn’t care about education. At $1.6 billion, education is the largest single budget item in the state.”
Cooper said that while the legislature eliminated 300 jobs in state government, that isn’t an accurate reflection of personnel. “We didn’t get rid of people,” he said. “There are a lot of jobs that have a budget line, but have gone unfilled for several years. We just eliminated those positions.”
Rep. Garry Piiparinen said, “I have been privileged and honored to serve. We did a lot of good things, and it’s very humbling to be a state representative.”
In discussing the Cindy Hill situation, Piiparinen said, “I didn’t know any of these characters before I got there. And I found some things quite disturbing, like how power is wielded in Cheyenne.
“If this happened on the Aspen playground, we’d be writing referrals,” Piiparinen said sternly.
He said he is looking forward to going to the education committee meeting on April 25, to speak up for the constitution and to speak for the people’s voice.
“I made an amendment to Senate File 106 to give her back her duties, and they wouldn’t even discuss it on the floor.”
Rep. Allen Jaggi, R-Lyman, said that although it’s referred to as a biennial budget session, “It’s a regular session, where we devote five days to the budget.”
Jaggi said he had concerns about how the legislature decided to spend money.
“We had to fight like crazy for that $1 million for senior citizens,” he said, “but then we throw $249 million at the state capitol renovation, and the University of Wyoming always comes out smelling like a rose. We gave them about a half-billion dollars. I’m very disappointed in how we’ve done things.”
Jaggi said that although the numbers show a reduction in government employees by 300, “We did hire 32 new full time employees. That concerns me. We have the largest state government, and spend the most money on state government per capita, of any other state in the nation.”
Jaggi said his main concerns are the growth in state government; the amount of money being spent by the legislature, while revenue continues to drop; and the war on coal and EPA regulations being handed down by Gov. Matt Mead.
According to Jaggi: “Elect people who will stick up for the things you believe in.”