CHEYENNE — Members of the Joint Appropriations Committee finished preliminary work Friday on the new state budget and left the full Legislature with $26.7 million to spend.
Gov. Matt Mead on Dec. 1 recommended a $3.4 billion general fund budget for the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years. His budget left $219 million for the full Legislature to spend.
But the JAC members put $100 million into the new school foundation reserve account. They allocated $41.7 million to the water development accounts to repay what they siphoned off in 2009 and 2010 when money was short and set aside $37.5 million for the first phase of the State Capitol renovation.
"The governor gave us a good budget to start with and we were able to do good work," Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, said. "I think when the dust settles, I think we're going to be pretty pleased with where we stand."
However, Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, the committee co-chairman, said Thursday evening that the committee was spending too much money.
Bebout said he doesn't believe the proposed budget is sustainable for the 2017-2018 fiscal years because of the expectations of lower mineral production.
"That's why I tried to hold it down," Bebout said. But he added that he did not get the votes he needed from the other 11 Senate and House members on the committee.
The Senate, he suggested, is unlikely to agree with all of the spending in the budget bill.
The JAC will not meet again until the Legislature convenes on Feb. 10.
Mead said the JAC members asked tough questions and thoroughly debated the budget specifics, and he appreciated their hard work.
"I put forward a fiscally conservative budget that keeps spending at almost the same level as I proposed two years ago," the governor said in a media release.
"I thank the committee for supporting much of that budget. Of the few areas where we disagree we will continue the discussion through the session," he added.
One area of disagreement is likely to be over the strategic investments and projects account (SIPA), which was created last year.
The JAC members spent the $90 million in the account and decided not to refill it, as the governor requested.
The money in the account came from irregular capital gains generated when the state treasurer rebalanced the investments of the permanent mineral trust fund.
But that doesn't happen every year, Wallis said, and the amount is unpredictable because the reallocation may only be triggered when the management of a state fund changes.
About $30 million of the SIPA money went to the new school foundation reserve fund, which was established as a buffer if income to the state foundation funds drops in the future.
Local government funding held its ground this year. The committee agreed to spend $175 million on cities, towns and counties, with the first $25 million earmarked for counties that would be hardest hit by the loss of federal payments in lieu of taxes (PILT) if Congress doesn't restore the money.
In Washakie County, for example, 21 percent of the budget is from PILT dollars, Wallis said.
The committee also approved a 2 percent pay raise for state, University of Wyoming and non-judicial employees for each of the two fiscal years. The raises are not across the board but are to be based on performance.
Mead asked for a 2.5 percent raise, or 5 percent for the biennium.
Community college employees would get a 2 percent raise for the two-year budget period.
Teachers in K-12 public schools will get 1 percent raises and state-paid retirement contributions if the full Legislature agrees with the committee.