Budget talks expand to WRC, departmental mergers

by nathan oster

Rep. Jamie Flitner said she and colleagues in the House were “diving” into the budget bill on Tuesday, going over the recommendations of the Joint Appropriations Committee for the upcoming biennium.

“It’s a big bill, a billion dollar bill,” she said. “It’s too soon to know what kind of an impact it will have on Big Horn County.”

One of the big topics of discussion has been a possible merging of the Department of Health and the Department of Human Services. While they are two different departments now, there was a time when they were together, she said.

“I’m hearing from people on both sides — those who think it would be a good deal and those who think it would be a bad deal.”

Proponents of the merger contend that it would save the state money. Opponents say the two entities “have very different approaches, in terms of what they’re tasked with doing,” she said.

Flitner said she hasn’t made up her mind, personally, as to which view she supports.

Lawmakers are also talking about ways to save money in education.

A footnote in the budget bill calls for the funding of a feasibility study on bulk purchasing for school districts.

Lawmakers generally support the idea of adding a computer science component to the educational basket of goods — the big question, she said, is how to make it equitable and how to fund it.

While the budget bill is front and center in the House, Flitner said she’s been paying close attention to renewed talk of privatizing the Wyoming Retirement Center in Basin and the Wyoming Pioneer Home in Thermopolis.

“We’re all trying to do what we can to help,” she said, referring to herself and other lawmakers with constituents in the Big Horn Basin.

“What’s driving it is the fact that the Appropriations committee is tasked with finding money, and because of our budget situation, they’re lifting up every cushion in the couch trying to find money wherever they can.

“I get the sense the WRC along with the Pioneer Home no longer fit with where the state wants to be. I don’t get the sense that (lawmakers) want to be in nursing home facilities, that they feel like they are in competition with private businesses, and that private nursing homes are meeting those needs.”

Flitner said the budget bill, as it currently stands, funds the two facilities for one year but that an amendment has been floated to add a second year of funding. It’s too soon to tell what direction talks will take in the coming days, she said.

“We’re fighting very hard to keep that facility for the community of Basin,” she said.

As for the rest of this week, Flitner said, “Our focus is going to be the budget, looking closely at each department, what the governor’s recommendations are and what the appropriations recommendations are.”

Lawmakers are ultimately required to reach an agreement for a balanced budget.

“I don’t foresee a lot of angst” in getting there, she said. “People are working together. It’s always interesting to see how it all plays out.”