SHERIDAN — Local legislators highlighted debates over the state budget and the creation of workforce development programs in their recaps of the recently-concluded state legislative session during the monthly Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce Chamber lunch Wednesday.
Local representatives took turns discussing a session that saw a sharp divide between the Wyoming House of Representatives and the Wyoming Senate over increases in the state’s supplemental budget and whether those increases should be offset by the creation of new revenue streams through taxes.
Several revenue-generating bills made it through the state’s House, only to be struck down in the Senate, including a bill that would have created a corporate income tax and a bill that would have created a statewide lodging tax.
With the exception of Rep. Mark Kinner, R-Sheridan, local legislators came down firmly on the side of cutting spending over raising revenue.
“The sentiment in the Senate, and this is one of the more exciting things in the session, is we killed every attempt to raise taxes in Wyoming,” said Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan. “Our problem in Wyoming is not that our taxes are too low, our problem is that our spending is too high.”
Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Sheridan, agreed with Kinskey and expressed disappointment efforts to limit state spending during the session fell short. In particular, Biteman pointed to the defeat of the Wyoming Budget Stabilization Act, which he carried, as a missed opportunity.
Biteman’s bill would have capped annual increases in state spending above an amount determined by calculating the state’s population and inflation growth.
“Planning for the next boom cycle is what this was about,” Biteman said. “If we were to get another boom cycle, if we had this cap in place, all of that extra money would go into savings and set us up good for the next bust cycle.”
Biteman said he plans to tweak the bill and reintroduce it during the Legislature’s budget session at the end of this year.
Though the House as an overall body supported more spending, most of the local House members were not among the body’s majority. In a written statement read by Chamber Treasurer Cody Sinclair, Rep. Cyrus Western, R-Big Horn, noted that he felt the budget “went too far in terms of spending,” and Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan, said while he was happy to see the tax bills defeated this session, he expects they will re-emerge in coming sessions.
“The debate on taxes is far from finished,” Jennings said. “Already it’s being bandied about that there will be more talk about taxes coming along.”
Kinner, though, voted in favor of some of the tax bills, including both the lodging tax and corporate income tax. Kinner, who previously served on the House’s education committee and currently serves on the House Appropriations Committee, said that projections indicate the state will be short between $250 million and $350 million in education funding by the next biennium and saw opportunities to start cutting into that deficit with some of the tax bills.
Local legislators were united in their support for workforce development bills, however.
They praised a bill that will expand eligibility for Hathaway Scholarships to include more students interested in career and technical education and a bill that will allow community colleges to award students bachelor of applied sciences degrees. As the state’s energy sector continues to feel the negative impacts of a changing global market, Kinskey said training a new workforce will be crucial to the future of the state’s economy.
“If we lose jobs across the border at those mines, (manufacturing jobs) are the best paying jobs in town,” Kinskey said. “That’s our lifeblood in this community. So we have to move with energy bordering on panic to make sure that we diversify our economy and that we can replace any jobs in the coal field that are lost with equally well-paying manufacturing jobs.”