A bill determining how Wyoming spends its share of American Rescue Plan Act funds survived a symbolic challenge, cleared the House and Senate and emerged from a joint conference committee late Monday with both chambers’ spending additions basically intact.
Senate File 66 – American rescue plan act recovery funds appropriations lays out a spending plan for some of the $1 billion-plus Wyoming received through the American Rescue Plan Act. (Other ARPA funds, not addressed by the legislation, are eligible as “revenue replacement,” and can be saved or spent on general government operations.) As it was introduced, the bill proposed $334.5 million in spending, with line items for everything from $10 million for a Outdoor Recreation Grant Program to $2.1 million for a 24-7 suicide prevention call line. Senate amendments added some $50 million in spending. Sixteen House amendments made another $71.5 million in changes.
What happened: Minutes before SF 66 cleared the House last week, there was an effort to scrap the legislation and return all of Wyoming’s ARPA funds to the federal government. Rep. Bill Fortner (R-Gillette) made the motion to delete the enactment clause of the bill, a sentiment that was agreeable to roughly a third of the representatives.
“With this free money that they call free, it’s cost us our constitutional rights, both federal and state level,” Fortner said. “It’s made us addicted to free money, and they’ve done that throughout the last 60 or 70 years. It did it with creating a welfare system, which started a ghetto system and things like that.”
Afterward, Fortner withdrew the motion, a custom when lawmakers propose to delete a bill’s enactment clause, because that type of amendment is essentially a protest of the bill itself. Minutes later, 18 representatives voted to reject the legislation.
Who said what: “We are spending IOUs.” — Rep. Christopher Knapp (R-Gillette), testifying against the bill.
“Why would we say that we paid all this taxpayer money to the federal government only to say that we shouldn’t receive the services for that taxpayer money here? That seems like one of the more fiscally irresponsible things [I’ve heard].” — Rep. Mike Yin (D-Jackson), testifying against an amendment to reject federal stimulus funds.
Status: The House passed an amended version of SF 66 last week, but it didn’t immediately pass muster with the Senate, where a concurrence vote failed 28-0. Lawmakers from both chambers conferenced Monday morning and spent an hour and a half walking through the 16 House amendments. They met again midday and made no progress. There were sticking points related to spending on water infrastructure, funding for a new physician’s assistant degree program and other changes. The third go-around on Monday evening, lawmakers agreed while conferencing to keep all the House’s additions in place. “We basically ended up agreeing to all their stuff,” Sen. Mike Gierau (D-Jackson) said. “Some of their adds were fairly significant, like $45 million for water projects.” Another major change that came out of conferencing, he said, was the restoration of a $15 million carveout for rural hospitals.
Monday was the last day the Legislature could move a bill to Gov. Mark Gordon and still have an opportunity to override any potential veto. The governor’s recommendations on how to spend the ARPA funds stayed somewhat intact, but the conference committee members, with the deadline in mind, met past 7 p.m. Monday to finish the process. “We need to get this done today,” Rep. Lloyd Larsen (R-Lander) told WyoFile Monday afternoon. “If we don’t, that creates a problem for us.”
They did pull it off, it just took three attempts.