Local legislators react to budget agreement

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SHERIDAN — Despite what appeared to be a sharp divide last week, the state Legislature’s House and Senate reached an agreement on a roughly $3 billion supplemental budget late Wednesday.

Wyoming operates on a two-year budget cycle and the Legislature approved the state’s two-year budget during its January 2018 session. The supplemental budget, which was initially proposed by outgoing Gov. Matt Mead and amended by Gov. Mark Gordon, is designed to adjust spending to meet urgent needs for which the general budget does not provide.

Each chamber started the session with a budget bill — House Bill 1 and Senate File 1 — that proposed the supplemental budget the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee negotiated during its interim meetings. Through the session, the two chambers made amendments to their budget bills which resulted in a wide spending gap between the two chambers.

The House advanced a budget that proposed spending above what the JAC recommended, while the Senate budget cut some of the JAC’s recommended spending. The largest difference between the two budgets was in education funding; the House increased the external cost adjustment for schools, which modifies spending to account for inflation, while the Senate cut a portion of the cost adjustment the JAC proposed.

According to Rep. Mark Kinner, R-Sheridan, who is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, the House appropriated $18 million for the ECA, per the recommendation of the Joint Education Committee, while the Senate cut the ECA to $9 million. After negotiations, Kinner said the Senate agreed to pay the full $18 million ECA.

The other major difference between the two budgets, Kinner said,  was over money to upgrade the Department of Revenue’s computer system, in order for the department to better manage the state’s mineral and excise tax divisions. The Senate, however, did not believe the upgrade was an urgent enough need to warrant inclusion in the supplemental budget. Kinner said the House was willing to accept the Senate’s position on many of those items.

The two chambers convened a conference committee to reconcile the two budgets.

Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, who is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and sat on the conference committee, said the negotiations were productive.

“This is the way the system is supposed to work,” Kinskey said. “There has been no conflict, there haven’t been any hard feelings, it’s all been civil, it’s all been classic debate back-and-forth…If everybody agrees, then most of us aren’t necessary to the conversation.”

Rep. Cyrus Western, R-Big Horn, voted for the House budget but said he is glad the spending his chamber proposed has been cut back.

“Personally, I do think the (House budget) was too much,” Western said. “Given the fiscal times that we’re in, where there is still a sizable deficit,

“I did think the spending was too much.”

Western said he supported the House budget in part because it contained a budget amendment he proposed — which would appropriate $100,000 to Sheridan County School District #2 for a pilot principal education program — and because he knew spending would be cut in the conference committee.

“The Senate was in the right to really pare back that budget,” Western said.

Western’s amendment and an $8 million appropriation for the construction of a new building on the John C. Schiffer Collaborative School are included in the negotiated budget, Kinner said, but right now two other local projects that were relying on supplemental budget funding are in jeopardy.

The JAC’s supplemental budget included a roughly $7.5 million contribution to the renovation and expansion of Sheridan College’s Perkins Health Science building and about $2.5 million for the renovation and expansion of the college’s Wyoming Culinary Institute.

The funding for those projects was included in a capital construction bill, which the Senate defeated unanimously last week.

Kinner said he, and other members of the house, are working with the Senate to revive the capital construction bill.

“That is hanging in the balance now,” Kinner said. “Because if that Capital Construction bill does not come to life, those two projects are in jeopardy for funding. That will be our next interest, is to encourage the Senate to bring that bill back to life.”

The agreement between the two chambers has not been officially finalized and Kinner said they are awaiting to review the final version of the budget, which he expects will be released by the end of the day Friday.

By |Feb. 15, 2019|

About the Author:

Michael Illiano joined The Sheridan Press as a government and politics reporter in February 2018. He is originally from New Jersey and graduated from Boston University. Email him at michael.illiano@thesheridanpress.com.

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