With help of federal relief, legislature finds budget consensus

eric-barlow-1000
Speaker of the House Eric Barlow (R-Gillette) during the first week of the session. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

By Nick ReynoldsWyoFile

Don Richards, budget and fiscal administrator for the Legislative Services Office, can only recall two instances in the history of Wyoming legislative sessions — in 2000 and 2013 — in which the House and Senate failed to agree on a budget.

Last week, members of the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee did something that is perhaps even more unusual: They reached agreement on a budget bill in a single meeting.

On Friday, negotiators from the House and Senate signed a tentative agreement on this year’s supplemental budget, advancing it to the floor on Monday.

Separated by approximately $46 million in their respective bills as recently as Thursday, both the House and Senate have since agreed to a budget proposal that undoes much of their March work and reverts to a version that closely mirrors Gov. Mark Gordon’s proposal from November.

The estimated $1.3 billion in federal aid coming to the state via the American Rescue Package signed by President Joe Biden earlier this month greased the skids on a normally protracted and sometimes tense negotiation between the chambers.

-- Advertisement – Story Continues Below --

“It’s done because, one, I don’t think our positions were that far apart,” House Speaker Eric Barlow (R-Gillette) told reporters Friday morning. “Then there’s the second part of why that happened. And that’s the federal dollars actually made a difference.”

Where the money is going

Precisely how those dollars will be applied is yet to be determined, as the federal government has yet to finalize guidance for how states can spend them. However, legislative leaders have sketched out a rough plan.

According to executive branch funding projections authored by the consultant Federal Funds Information for States (and obtained by WyoFile via a public records request), Wyoming’s share of the funding will likely include:

  • $220 million for state-level fiscal relief.
  • $130.2 million for local-level fiscal relief.
  • $10 million for capital projects.
  • $122 million in aid for K-12 education, as well as just under $40 million for higher education.
  • More than $40 million for childcare programs, including $1 million for Head Start.
  • $3 million for mental health and substance abuse treatment.
  • $4.5 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
  • More than $26 million in transportation grant funding.

Those funding promises prompted Joint Conference Committee members — the House and Senate budget negotiators — to do away with millions of dollars in proposed cuts.

According to a draft JCC summary report released Friday afternoon, the Department of Health will see more than $12 million in proposed cuts replaced under the committee’s recommendations (less than the roughly $17 million asked for by the House) as well as $1.37 million in funds returning to the senior home health services program — far short of the $4.12 million the House asked for.

-- Advertisement – Story Continues Below --

Both the University of Wyoming and the state’s community colleges will see $8 million returned to the budget as well, alongside a $15.5 million appropriation for UW’s planned acquisition of the Bison Run Apartments.

While some dollars were ultimately replaced in the agreement, the JCC further reduced funding for one area, the state’s juvenile justice unit, cutting over $500,000.

 

 

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.