February 9, 2023
As I report at the end of week four of the 67th General Session of the Wyoming Legislature, the Wyoming Senate is in the middle of third reading debate on SF0001, also known as the supplemental budget bill.
Budget debate signals perhaps the Legislature’s most important responsibility: balancing our state’s checkbook and allocating taxpayers’ hard-earned money.
Unlike many recent sessions, this year lawmakers start with the fortunate question of how to appropriate a nearly $2 billion surplus. That’s a big change from only two years ago, when our state faced one of the largest budget deficits in its history. Many folks will remember the tough spending reductions that had to be made in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and bottomed-out energy prices to keep Wyoming’s finances in the black.
I am cautioning restraint and long-term fiscal planning, which have served Wyoming well through our economic ups and downs. For those opportunities that we do invest in, it is important that we focus on the strategies that will bring dividends for future Wyoming generations. Today, I will touch on a few measures I am focused on that represent good fiscal policy and deliver for Wyoming families and communities long into the future.
Below I touch on two amendments to the budget bill that I feel strongly benefit our state in the education realm.
• One of my budget amendments provides long overdue funding for Wyoming teachers’ salaries. This provision fully funds the External Cost Adjustment (ECA) so we can address the serious issue of teacher shortages in Wyoming’s schools and address inflation concerns impacting the programs necessary to educate Wyoming’s kids. This amendment helps to follow through on our promise to teachers and properly funds Wyoming’s education system.
• Another of my budget amendments is important to developing and getting in place the rules to help Wyoming charter schools get a strong start.
The Senate will debate the budget bill a final time on Friday, February 3, before it moves to conference committee for reconciliation. Although the supplemental budget takes up a fair amount of time and energy, during general sessions like this one, we consider hundreds of bills aimed at improving the lives of Wyoming citizens. I would like to cover two of my bills that are focused on enhancing Wyoming’s education system and making our communities stronger:
SF0174 is a bill I sponsored that expands school choice in in the state, while simultaneously improving the state’s K-12 public education system. SF0174 - Wyoming charter school authorizing board creates an independent board to oversee the approval of new charter schools in the state.
Another bill I would like to highlight is a Weston-county inspired bill, SF0176 Solid Waste Disposal. As you know, Weston County is home to two solid waste districts: Central Weston and Weston.
As the power plant and the petroleum processing plant in Osage closed their doors, the mill levies were lost because their tax base went away when the two plants closed. The solid waste district board overseeing the district put the transfer station to sleep because the station did not have enough revenue to operate. The board then handed their keys over to the Weston County Commissioners. Since landfills come with the requirement that they need to be monitored forever, a solution is needed to ensure the necessary monitoring happens.
SF0176 allows for the consolidation of a county’s solid waste districts. This bill will allow the Central Weston and Weston solid waste districts to combine without the need (and cost) of a special election – and importantly – without raising taxes on residents.
While current law would require a special election to combine the solid waste districts, this bill removes red tape and gives County Commissioners the ability to consolidate districts within a county with a resolution.
An amendment to the bill added that all solid waste district boards must agree to proposed merges. This is a good, common-sense measure that ensures the garbage gets picked up and the bills don’t go up. I am grateful for Weston County Commissioner Ed Wagoner’s testimony and support during the committee hearing on this bill.
Please email me at [email protected] if you have thoughts on legislation being discussed during this session.