I remember as a young boy taking a field trip in seventh grade to Washington D.C. and one of the most memorable things I saw was in the National Archives—our United States Constitution. Its setting commanded reverence and the care with which that document was protected and revered would make all Americans proud. The U.S. Constitution truly is a sacred document. America became the great nation that it is because of our being true to its legal tenets and our willingness to come to its defense when others would assail it.
Wyoming’s Constitution is no different. It’s also a set of laws, Wyoming’s highest, and I have made a promise and taken an oath to protect and defend it when I see it being assailed. I am a Wyoming legislator. There were a handful of legislators who spoke out about the unconstitutionality of SF104 a couple years ago, a bill that tried the remove the people’s voice from electing a state superintendent of instruction and put the office in the hands of a gubernatorial appointment. Few listened then, but thankfully the Wyoming Supreme Court weighed the evidence and validated our voices and the people’s right to vote.
This past legislative session something happened that many legislators and I found really troublesome and it has been bothersome ever since. In fact, I found it as troublesome as the passing of SF104.
HB1, Wyoming’s 2015 supplemental budget bill, was filled with what I would simply call many pork projects, not “ordinary expenses for the state.” Those projects should have been vetted properly through the committee process and legislative hearings. Period. Many legislators and I voted against that budget bill for that very reason. During that session, I read a governor’s letter about a previous budget bill when he and a former attorney general raised the same issue I raised on the House floor.
I asked Wyoming’s Attorney General for an opinion regarding Article 3 Section 34 of the Wyoming Constitution that states: “The general appropriation bills shall embrace nothing but appropriations for the ordinary expenses of the legislative, executive and judicial departments of the state, interest on public debt, and for public schools. All other appropriations shall be made by separate bills, each embracing but one subject.” The supplemental budget bill was anything but that!
I asked the AG two questions:
1) Did HB1 of 2015 cross the constitutional line by appropriating beyond “ordinary” expenses with its multitude of provisions?
2) Citing the Governor’s letter to the Legislature dated Feb. 21, 2013:
“I note in Section 67 of the Budget—University of Wyoming—the footnote is extensive. I note the Attorney General’s concern that appropriation bills shall embrace nothing but appropriations for ordinary expenses of the state and that the Legislature has included in the general appropriation bill provisions that should properly be placed in single subject bills. This section directs the Trustees to provide a significant array of information from the selection of deans to architecture and cause me to ponder the expanded scope of the budget bill and question whether or not this promotes the most efficient, effective government.”
My question was simple: Does the Attorney General consider all the appropriation in HB1 “ordinary expenses of the state?”
I was shocked when I received a letter from the Attorney General back in June stating “I respectfully decline to answer either of the two questions that you proposed” because his office is charged with responding to questions either from the full House or Senate – not from individual legislators. I truly believe this reasoning does not hold water. Where can I get an opinion then? Who will render an answer on the constitutionality of my question? Whose responsibility is it to render opinions? The responsibility rests solely upon the shoulders of the Attorney General. I believe my concerns still are legitimate, but it seems I have little recourse other than taking my case to the people. After all, all power is inherent in the people. The people of Wyoming are entitled to know the constitutionality of that bill, even after the fact. Again, I call upon the Attorney General to render an opinion on the constitutionality of HB1-2015. In my heart of hearts, I still believe the bill is unconstitutional as it contained many expenses above and beyond ordinary expenses of the state.
We’re coming upon another budget session in February 2016. State revenue is way down due largely to falling mineral royalties. Last year’s $300,000,000 supplemental budget did little to help Wyoming’s financial matters either. We need to know now, before February’s 2016 budget session, whether Wyoming’s old way of doing business with the people’s money is really congruent and in harmony with Article 3 Section 34 of our Constitution. Your opinion please, Mr. Attorney General.
Representative Garry Piiparinen
Editors Note: Representative Piiparinen included documents with this column, they are attached below.