For members of the Joint Appropriations Committee (JAC), the term “20-day Budget Session” is a bit of a misnomer. Our members began work on the budget the day after the 2017 General Session ended, including two full weeks of hearings in December and two weeks in January. In the interim, members of JAC worked diligently to understand the essential needs of state agencies and to prepare a responsible budget for Wyoming.
After receiving a tremendous amount of testimony and asking tough questions of those in charge of state agencies, the JAC developed an initial budget bill that was introduced to both chambers in the middle of February. The budget was intensely debated for two weeks and we arrived at a compromise on Friday.
This budget blends priorities reflected in the debate in the Wyoming House and Senate. The House and Senate approach funding for state government through two different lenses. Understanding that each chamber approaches budget negotiations from different perspectives allows us to work quickly through 80 percent of the provisions on which we agree, and to turn our attention to the challenging work of reaching a compromise on the items where the two chambers differ.
From the outset, the House and Senate were largely in agreement on the size of the general fund budget for state agencies. The larger debate centered on how to pay for the budget plan. The House’s approach relies on a system of diversions from savings to help define funding streams for education and a smaller dip into the state’s “rainy day” savings account, called the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account. The Senate’s approach is to pay for budget expenditures largely through general fund dollars and savings from the “rainy day” account, without substantial diversions or earmarked funding streams.
To reach a compromise, House and Senate leaders agreed to adopt each chamber’s approach for one year of the two-year budget cycle. In fiscal year 2019, the budget will be paid for through the House funding model. In fiscal year 2020, the budget is paid for using the spending parameters articulated by the Senate. Our hope is that seeing how each approach works will offer some guidance for the future on the most effective spending model for Wyoming.
The JAC conference committee report is a strong compromise that seeks to lower our structural deficit while fully funding Wyoming priorities. This compromise includes funding for a new middle school in Cheyenne, increases essential funding at the Wyoming Health Department for two state health facilities in Evanston and Lander, builds savings for the Wyoming State Penitentiary and sets aside additional resources for the University of Wyoming Science Initiative in Laramie.
With this compromise we have met our constitutional duty to our constituents while defining a workable path forward for funding state government. The balanced budget requirement in our constitution is essential to the functioning of our state. In carrying out our constitutional duty as legislators, we must come together each budget session to have an honest and frank conversation about what is essential to the proper operation of government, what we can afford to fund and how we can balance spending with responsible savings for Wyoming’s economic future.
Wyoming is a state of responsible savers. The Legislature has a proud track record of saving for the future and a long-term vision for Wyoming that is born out in our Permanent Wyoming Mineral Trust Fund (PWMTF) and the state’s other permanent funds. Interest income from state investments not only supplements the operation of government but provides a renewable gift to our children and grandchildren. Through the continued responsible stewardship of our savings, we will ensure that we leave Wyoming’s fiscal house in order and the condition of our savings better than we found them.
We are happy to report that Wyoming has a balanced budget that reflects the needs of Wyoming’s people. Our state is in a strong position to expand economic prosperity and the JAC will continue to seek out opportunities to eliminate waste, right-size government and keep state agencies small and close to the Wyoming people our government exists to serve.
With this year’s compromise, we showed our commitment not just to today’s challenges but to a long-term vision of doing what is right for future generations. There is much to be proud of and we offer our thanks to our colleagues on JAC and in the Wyoming Legislature for the vigorous debate, commitment to developing a workable budget plan that respects the values and priorities of Wyoming’s people and adheres to our conservative values of fiscal responsibility.