SHERIDAN — The spotlight at the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon went to the four state legislators representing the Sheridan area who recently returned from this year’s legislative session in Cheyenne.
Speaker Pro Tempore and House District 51 Rep. Rosie Berger, R-Big Horn, gave an overview of the major legislative energies that went into this year’s budget session.
“This was truly a hardworking session,” Berger began, explaining that while approximately 300 bills were introduced during the 20-day session in Cheyenne, only about 130 were signed into law.
She said most of the bills introduced this year had been previously vetted in the interim by standing committees.
Berger said Wyoming’s state budget is generally considered to be about $3.3 billion, but because of other funding and the fact that education is addressed separately, the true budget to run the Cowboy State sits at around $8.8 billion. She later said $8.66 billion was appropriated this year.
Two reoccurring themes in Berger’s address were energy and education.
Berger said the Legislature is considering options to put more viability into Wyoming’s fossil fuels.
“I think it’s important this year that we put a key emphasis on our natural resources. With the federal threats we have experienced over the last couple of years, we are trying to make more focus on outreaching both internationally, across the nation, even across to Canada, to look at ways we can sell our natural resources,” Berger said.
Indicating legislators are looking at options to add value to existing Wyoming resources.
“We are trying to create an energy strategy to add value to our resources. So, if it’s coal, oil or gas, what other products can we create or produce?” Berger said, indicating some sites around the state are being examine for potential processing or production centers.
While projects of that magnitude are likely years off Berger emphasized the critical role energy plays in the Wyoming economy.
“Seventy-five percent of our revenue generated in the state of Wyoming comes from our natural resources. It is the reason today you and I do not pay an income tax,” Berger said.
On the front of education, Berger said this year continued an increased emphasis on public school facilities — each county in Wyoming has a new school either already finished or in the works. The legislature also approved a pay increase for public employees, which includes school teachers and university professors.
Other topics Berger touched upon were
• Court Security: the legislature appropriated $6 million to increase security in the Fremont and Sweetwater County Court systems.
• Medicaid Expansion and Waiver: in light of a heated pre-session debate about whether Wyoming should voluntarily expand Medicaid, the result was the creation of a task force to further negotiate further proceedings. As far as the waiver that provides funding for people with disabilities to get living assistance, the legislature committed a small amount of additional funding for the cause. Berger said those funds will get approximately 200 people off of the waiting list, leaving approximately 400 without needed funds.
• Capital Renovation: the capital building in Cheyenne is in need of updating to be in compliance with the fire code and become more accessible. The planned updates will likely take two seasons to complete.