Lawmakers listen to Gov. Mark Gordon’s state of the state address in February 2022. (Mike Vanata/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 In total, 71 amendments failed and 34 were withdrawn by their sponsors.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.

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.

Mutual votes

Of the $90.2 million the chambers have mutually agreed on, the largest chunk is $75 million to be used as state matching funds for federal infrastructure programs awarded to Wyoming under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. That appropriation is contingent upon the federal government spending $4 for every dollar that Wyoming spends on such infrastructure grants.

The original budget bill included just over $200 million in state aid for community colleges, a figure that both chambers increased by $7.5 million last week, with legislators citing the struggles facing community colleges as a result of recent cuts.

Because the original budget bill included $200,000 to support the University of Wyoming’s rodeo teams, legislators in both chambers also agreed to add another $200,000 to support the rodeo teams at community colleges.

Another $400,000 was added to support contracts for the Good Neighbor Authority program, a program of the U.S. Forest Service that supports forest management projects across the U.S.

Along with the chambers’ funding increase for juvenile justice, the House and Senate added other funding for other social services last week.

Some $3.2 million was added to community providers that support and facilitate work opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities.

The House and Senate both added $3 million for the Department of Revenue’s property tax relief fund. That program allows homeowners with less than three-quarters of their county’s household median income to apply to be relieved of up to 50% of the property taxes they owe.

The House and Senate also added in $808,807 for court-ordered youth treatment facilities, which legislators said are strained.

“The children’s home in my hometown is one of two certified [juvenile psychiatric facilities] serving our Wyoming youth and currently only three [facilities] in the nation that are accepting new Wyoming Medicaid youth,” said Rep. Shelly Duncan (R-Lingle). “Our facility is licensed for 62 beds but they have been forced to reduce their capacity due to lack of staffing and can only serve up to 40 kids.”

Another $60,000 has been added for the burial of indigent people.

Amendments also added $25,000 for a statewide conference to address  suicide among first-responders.

In total, the chambers passed 16 identical amendments.

“That’s the most I’ve seen since I’ve been staffing,” said Elizabeth Martineau, a fiscal analyst for the Legislative Service Office.

Daniel Bendtsen is a freelance journalist living in Green River. He previously spent five years working at the Riverton Ranger and Laramie Boomerang. Originally from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Bendtsen...

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