Legislature approves supplemental budget, state Senate passes House education funding bill

Legislators in the Wyoming House and Senate approved the state supplemental budget Monday, ending a potentially tense battle over funding and budget cuts in our cash-strapped state.
“Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committee have concurred [regarding the legislation] and have come up with a finalized budget bill,” said Rep. Jamie Flitner (R-Shell.) According to Flitner, the reconciliation process was rather simple; few divisions between the House and Senate existed regarding the budget, with most of the disagreement stemmed from education funding.
“The differences weren’t that vast,” Flitner said. “We were able to really come to the table [and compromise] – it really wasn’t that great of a chasm to overcome.”
The newly reconciled budget will impose $30 million in cuts to state agencies while requiring $45 million in education reductions over the next two years, should the legislature fail to adopt education funding reform legislation. Additionally, lawmakers have called upon Gov. Matt Mead to reduce the number of state employees by 90 — 15 more than originally required.
“We have a lot of backstops,” Flitner said, referring specifically to the budget bill’s $45 million education reductions. “There will be cuts to education, it just remains to be seen which formula we go with.”
That same day, the Senate approved HB 236 — the House’s comprehensive education finance bill – with several amendments. The amended legislation will now make its way back to the House for a vote of concurrence. Should the House not concur with the Senate’s changes, a joint council will convene to negotiate the changes and attempt to reach an agreement.
“I have no idea how much they amended it,” Flitner said. “I may not even recognize the bill.”
As amended, HB 236 has been stripped of a keystone proposal — a half-percent increase to the statewide sales and use tax. Additionally, estimates now suggest the bill carries between $60 and $70 in budget cuts — less than the $91 million proposed by the Senate in their budget bill.
Should the House and Senate reach agreement on the HB 236, the bill’s reductions will supersede the cuts proposed in the supplemental budget.
The bill now awaits Gov. Matt Mead’s signature, who enjoys a line-by-line discretionary veto in the budget process. Mead has previously expressed opposition to additional, drastic budget cuts to, and may veto certain line items he disagrees with.
With two days left in the session, legislators will focus on addressing the remaining bills before they adjourn for the year. The end of session marks Flitner’s completion of her first full session as a state legislator, one filled with learning and growth.
“I’ve developed a lot of really great relationships and have become much more aware of the issues affecting our state,” she said. “When you’re in your own environment at home, your vision becomes so narrow – you just work and deal with your own issues. This experience has allowed me to see what other issues are important to citizens across the state.”
While Flitner called her experience positive and rewarding, she’s excited to return home and join her husband, Tim, on their ranch.
“It’s like I’m jumping from the frying pan into the fire,” she joked, adding that she will have to transition from hustle and bustle of writing and debating legislation to calving their cattle. “I’m excited to get back to some normalcy,” she said.