President of the Senate Phil Nicholas (R-Laramie) speaks at the podium during a press conference Friday, with Sen. Eli Bebout (R-Riverton), left, and Sen. Tony Ross (R-Cheyenne) looking on. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Lawmakers are on track to cut millions out of the $3 billion state budget as they conclude the first half of the four-week 2016 budget session, according to estimates by the Republican majority of the Legislature.

The Senate and House are moving their own budget bills and will begin work next week to combine them into a single measure.

GOP leaders say their current drafts grant “super-flex” powers to the governor allowing state agencies to apply a “penny plan” — a 1 percent cut applied in 2017 and again in 2018 — as they see fit. The cut is on top of agency reductions in Gov. Matt Mead’s proposed budget, which included reductions in travel and contract services. The suite of cuts can be done “without any harm to any services,” Rep. Steve Harshman (R-Casper) said at legislative leadership press conference today.

He said the penny plan savings amount to about $27 million over two years. GOP legislative leaders say the idea is to apply a gradual decrease in appropriations to state agencies rather than allowing their budgets to fall off a cliff in coming years.

There’s no end in sight to the declining mineral market that shoulder’s the state’s budget, according to the state’s revenue forecast. To soften budget cuts for the 2017-18 biennium, lawmakers are dipping into the $1.8 billion Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account, or so-called Rainy Day fund. But the overall changes so far tentatively trim the budget far beyond the state’s own projected revenue. Republicans say that’s because they want to prepare for a continuation of declining revenue beyond the 2017-18 biennium.

“That’s what drives me crazy,” said Rep. James Byrd (D-Cheyenne). He said he wasn’t in favor of the agency cuts submitted to the governor or Mead’s final budget proposal. Further cuts by the JAC were egregious, and now the legislative majority is “being overcome with the impending financial shortfalls, and making draconian cuts,” he told WyoFile earlier this week.

“I really despise the axiom that we’ve got to spread the pain across the board,” Byrd said. “No, no, no. We find the things that aren’t working and get rid of them. Or we find the things we can defer spending on.”

Correction: This story was updated on Feb. 22, 2016 to correct how the 1 percent “penny plan” is applied to state agency budgets. — Ed

Dustin Bleizeffer

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 22 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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