State House Candidate Responses: How do you propose to fund school construction?

As part of our goal here at County 17 of informing voters for this year’s elections, in the lead-up to the primaries, we sent out unique questions for candidates in state, county, and city elections, to let you better know your candidates.

To avoid overwhelming people with information, we skipped races that were uncontested. After the primaries, challengers to the incumbent stepped forward in House districts 31 and 32. This week we’ll be posting responses from the Republican incumbents and their independent challengers.

We also reached out to the candidates in District 40, but we did not receive responses from either candidate.

Previous answers can be found here:

What’s your background? Do you have the time to serve?

What’s your position on mineral taxes?

The general election is Nov. 6.

There is a lot of discussion that coal revenues will continue to decline. It has been a number of years since any new coal leases and the state is no longer receiving coal bid bonus monies for school construction. Given the Wyoming Supreme Court’s decisions which necessitate all children receive equal educational opportunity, how do you propose the legislature fund school construction? (limit 400 words)

Scott Clem (Republican-District 31)

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Over the last two years the legislature has shifted its focus from building new schools to maintaining what we have. Under our current economic climate, I support this policy change. Over this last boom period (10-15yrs), the state has built new schools and/or replaced old ones in all 23 counties. In fact, over the last decade our state has spent over a billion dollars building new schools. Will new schools need to be built or old school replaced in the next 5-10 years? I have no doubt, but this will be on a very limited basis going forward. We need to maintain what we have, so at this juncture I support the policy shift in using limited school capital construction (SCC) funds primarily for major maintenance.

With that policy shift well under way, the next consideration is how do we fund this SCC pot of money? This last budget session both the House and the Senate came up with their own plan. There was little compromise on which plan to go with, so this fiscal year we are using the Senate’s plan and next fiscal year the House plan will go into effect. The Senate insisted on using our cash on hand, namely money from the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account (LSRA, or rainy day fund). The House insisted on using investment income from the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund.

The problem that I find with the Senate’s plan is that it isn’t a permanent solution. Money from the LSRA will eventually run out. Without a steady revenue stream we will be right back to the original problem of how to fund SCC. I favor the House version. There is almost $8 billion in the PMTF. This amount remains inviolate; we can only appropriate the investment earnings off of the corpus. This return of investment income has consistently been a revenue stream to the state to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars each year. It is a more consistent and stable revenue stream for SCC. Of course, this solution is not without its problems. A bad investment year could wreak havoc on potential earnings, thus, available revenue for the state. In such instances the LSRA would serve as a good back up account. More policy work is needed to solidify SCC funding for future generations.

 

David Hardesty (Independent-District 31)

Statewide school construction shortfall may reach 200 million by 2022.  That is a problem that needs to be addressed. Coal lease bonus money, what we use to build and maintain schools, is gone.  A legislator can hope, or act. Hoping is not in my portfolio on this issue. We need to make a plan and implement it. I am no fan of paying more taxes.  I too grumble when I first look at any tax bill I receive. I try to think of the value I’m giving to the federal government, I like to think I’m supporting a Coast Guardsman’s family.  I witness the value we get everyday in our local schools from our state taxes.

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As I have gone door to door people have said they want to support schools.  I have visited with people who recently moved to Gillette from Arkansas and North Dakota, they were fanatic in their praise of Wyoming schools compared to where they just came from.  As you will see in another answer, good schools are a component to economic diversification. Already in discussion, in legislative committees, are possible sales tax, OR a severance tax, OR raising mills, OR imposing a lodging tax to cover this deficit.  Which of these taxes is fairest and will provide the least burden while maintaining a healthy business climate is the discussion.

Tim Hallinan (Republican-District 32)

The current school deficit is around $360 per biennium. The Wyoming Constitution requires that the royalties from the State Lands be deposited into the Common School Account (CSA) where it is held inviolate. Thus, it can’t be used for school or general appropriation purposes. That Account now contains $3.9 billion.

I propose that the Constitution be changed to allow access to the $200 million per biennium that is deposited into the CSA. Leave the $3.9 billion alone but don’t add to it. This would reduce the deficit to $190 million per biennium. The legislature has put aside $1.8 billion in the LSRA (rainy day account). It’s time to say that we need to draw down this account as it is truly raining. It would take 18 years to use up at $190 million every 2 years. During that time we will be able to find other means to solve this problem.

 

Chad Trebby (Independent-District 32)

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I have done all I can do to learn about the issues facing our district in this election.  However, coming into this election there are three key truths I have learned in my life as a leader.  The first is you cannot be an expert in everything.  The second is you have to have the humility to know when you don’t know what you need to.  And third, open your ears and listen to those you trust who do have the knowledge you are lacking.  The area of capital construction funding is an area where I will to listen to colleagues with more subject matter experience and find a solution that makes sense to me and the people I represent.  One of the reasons I think people find government so ineffective at times, is that everyone comes with their ideas and no one wants to listen to others.  I feel that the legislative body should be a well rounded group of individuals from differing backgrounds who all bring unique experiences and expertise.  While I may lack experience and expertise in capital construction projects I will bring other expertise to the legislature.  I will be the leader on issues that fall into my area of expertise.

For example, my experience in law enforcement, resource protection and higher education will make me uniquely qualified on matters surrounding school safety.  A few weeks ago I sat in on the Joint Education Committee meeting in Casper.  It was evident at the meeting that school safety will remain an issue that is a focus of that committee in the coming legislative sessions.

Combining the topics of capital construction and school safety I would like to point out one of the things I would like to accomplishing during my term is the development of a school safety code.  This would be similar to the fire or ADA codes that are implemented into new building design.  It would be a set of non-negotiable safety features that are designed into new construction to mitigate the harms of intruders entering the facility.  This would ensure the building are equipped with evidence based protective features like remote locking doors, cameras on entrances, securable interior doors, etc, at the time they are built.  This increases the safety of the occupants from the fist day the doors open.  It will also be significantly cheaper than retrofitting the facility down the road.