The floor of the Wyoming Senate. This week lawmakers begin ironing out the differences between the House and Senate version of the $3.3 billion budget bill for 2015-2016. (WyoFile/Gregory Nickerson — click to enlarge)

Wyoming legislature wraps up floor debate on budget

By Gregory Nickerson
— February 25, 2014

Wyoming lawmakers have concluded the largest part of debate over the 2015-2016 budget. On Wednesday and Friday of last week legislators held two major rounds of budget deliberations, passing some 63 budget amendments in the House and 59 in the Senate. Both chambers’ amendments would put the budget in the red, according to revenue projections.

Co-chairs of the Wyoming Joint Appropriations Committee  Sen. Eli Bebout (R-Riverton) (left) and Rep. Steve Harshman. Both will serve on the upcoming budget conference committee. (R-Casper) (right)
Co-chairs of the Wyoming Joint Appropriations Committee  Sen. Eli Bebout (R-Riverton) (left) and Rep. Steve Harshman. Both will serve on the upcoming budget conference committee. (R-Casper) (right)

“We spent more than I felt comfortable with,” said Sen. Eli Bebout (R-Riverton). He felt the budget didn’t adequately prepare for a projected slowdown in coal lease bonus revenue in 2017-2018. “Why put us in a position where we may have to deal with that in a few years? It would be a lot better to have a more sustained level of growth, or a reduction.”

The amendments set the stage for a conference committee to balance the budget by ironing out the differences in the House and Senate version of the bill. The Senate starts from a position that spends significantly more than the House. If General Fund revenue projections hold, the Senate budget would put the General Fund $34.6 million in the red.

Sen. Bebout said a large portion of that spending comes from an amendment to provide $20 million in matching funds for the University of Wyoming and Community Colleges. The amendment, which was passed on Friday, would give $10 million to each branch of the higher education system.

The House finished debate by proposing spending $1.8 million more than projected revenue. That lower deficit is largely due to a budget balancing amendment that Joint Appropriations Committee co-chair Rep. Steve Harshman (R-Casper) introduced on Friday afternoon. The budget balancer reduces funds that the Joint Appropriations Committee intended to transfer to other accounts by some $18.5 million.

In particular, Harshman’s amendment reduced General Funds for Water Development Account III ($5 million), the new School Foundation Program Reserve Account ($10 million), the firemen’s pension account ($3.4 million), and state facilities construction ($5 million).

Rep. Harshman said the lower spending coming out of the House was not designed to create an edge over the Senate in the upcoming negotiations. “On the House side, we’re not that wily. We don’t even think like that,” he said.

When the conference committee sits down for negotiations this week, they will come bearing 18 “mirror” amendments that are nearly identical. Another group of amendments has only minor differences between the House and Senate versions.  A final set contains concepts that were adopted by only one of the chambers. The negotiations on “mirror” bills will likely come first and go relatively smoothly. The more involved discussion will relate to amendments that only one chamber adopted. 

“It’s a workable budget,” said Bebout. “I look forward to the conference committee with the House.”

For a listing of House amendments to the budget bill for second reading and third reading, click here.
The Senate Amendments are available here.

— Gregory Nickerson is the government and policy reporter for WyoFile. He writes the Capitol Beat blog. Contact him at greg@wyofile.com.

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Gregory Nickerson

Gregory Nickerson worked as government and policy reporter for WyoFile from 2012-2015. He studied history at the University of Wyoming. Follow Greg on Twitter at @GregNickersonWY and on www.facebook.com/GregoryNickersonWriter/

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  1. All this talk about being “in the red” or “spending more than projected revenue” misses the point that the state continues to shovel money into what are quaintly referred to as “coffee cans.” The state has billions in these reserve accounts, much of it readily available.. More of it could be put to work for the people of Wyoming.