House and Senate agree on $90M budget increase

Lawmakers listen to Gov. Mark Gordon’s state of the state address in February 2022. (Mike Vanata)

By Daniel Bendsten, WyoFile

After passing their own versions of the budget bill, the Wyoming House and Senate will need to iron out a $46-million difference in spending.

A conference committee with five legislators from each chamber will now meet and negotiate a compromise for consideration. The House and Senate appointed legislators to the conference committee Tuesday morning. All appointees are also members of the Joint Appropriations Committee.

Lawmakers must iron out differences on funding for teachers and juvenile justice, among other issues.

The House and Senate passed identical amendments to add $90.2 million to the budget bill. Those amendments will not be subject to negotiation during the Joint Conference Committee process, a relief to lawmakers who were able to get their amendments passed during last week’s grueling budget discussions.

The debate over budget amendments kept the House working past 9 p.m. Wednesday and 7 p.m. Friday.

Between those two days, the House considered 104 budget amendments while the Senate considered 75 — spending more than 25 hour combined last week considering budget amendments.

Ultimately, the House and the Senate each passed 37 amendments. In total, 71 amendments failed and 34 were withdrawn by their sponsors.

Spending differences

The most glaring disagreement on spending between the chambers is whether to provide a cost-of-living increase for teachers. In October, the Joint Education Committee suggested a $25-million increase to help Wyoming’s rural schools attract and retain high-quality teachers.

Casper’s Southridge Elementary Principal Sonya Tuttle speaks with teachers during a teacher development day in August 2021. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Ultimately, the Joint Appropriations Committee trimmed that down to $9.3 million. That proposal survived the House, while the Senate stripped the cost-of-living increase entirely.

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Republican members of the Senate Appropriations Committee said the amount of federal COVID-19 relief funding school districts have received makes a cost-of-living increase unnecessary this year.

That position, however, will struggle to find the same level of support in the House, where lawmakers want to increase funding for teachers.

Both chambers will also need to compromise on a difference of $1.8 million in spending on Community Juvenile Services Boards, which are designed to help communities provide programming to keep kids out of the criminal justice system.

“We don’t want kids in the juvenile justice system,” said Rep. Cathy Connolly (D-Laramie). “Quite honestly, kids in the juvenile justice system often end up being adults in the prison system.”

The House also amended the budget bill to add $10 million for sidewalks and other pathways that promote “active transportation.” The Senate version does not include that funding.

A Senate amendment to add $1.7 million in funding for three employees and other contracted work in the state treasurer’s office also survived. The additional funding, along with budget footnotes to increase oversight of the treasurer’s office, reflect legislators’ concerns about accounting issues since the election of State Treasurer Curt Meier.

 

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