CHEYENNE — Leadership in both chambers projected an air of stability and optimism Friday after the midweek drama in the Legislature over the state’s supplemental budget.
The Senate suspended its rules and introduced several new spending bills Wednesday that would fund what they see as the top priorities for Wyoming in the event the chambers fail to agree on a full budget bill.
That move, along with the 30-0 vote to kill Senate File 162, the state-funded capital construction bill, was seen by some watchers as the Senate signaling it wasn’t going to budge from its spending priorities.
But speaking Friday, both Senate President Drew Perkins, R-Casper, and Speaker of the House Steve Harshman, R-Casper, said they expected both sides to reach an agreement and downplayed the midweek actions.
The House’s version contains $51 million in spending beyond the recommendations of the Joint Appropriations Committee. The Senate comes in at $19 million less than the JAC’s recommendations.
A big portion of that $70 million difference is in education funding. The House increased the external cost adjustment for schools, which helps defray the effect of inflation on the education budget formula by about $21 million over what was included by the JAC. The Senate cut down its external cost adjustment formula, which resulted in about $9 million less.
The House also included $15 million in additional funding to finance a new revenue tracking system, something Harshman said was necessary as the current system continues to age. The Senate cut funding for the department by $5 million from what was recommended by the JAC.
Harshman said the two sides were only disagreeing on about 1 percent of the total state budget and saw multiple paths for the two sides to work out the differences. As about $20 million of the difference is funding for upgrades at the Department of Revenue, Harshman said it is easy to make up ground once negotiations start next week.
“As far as the budget, I think it’ll probably be one of the simpler, easier, smaller supplemental budgets in many, many years,” Harshman said.
“We’re not talking about a lot of different issues.”
Harshman said he hoped the groups will find a compromise by the end of next week so the Legislature can focus on all the other legislation still awaiting action.
Perkins was also optimistic that the conference committee would hammer out all the details by the middle of next week.
“I think it’s going to be fine. We’ve kind of given about a week for everything to slow down and to think about what’s going on and where we’re at,” Perkins said. “I think we’ll be close enough that we’ll have it resolved by Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday at the latest next week.
“But who knows, it could all blow up. Who knows? But I doubt it.”
Both sides announced late Friday who’d be assigned to each chamber’s conference committees, the group that will try to iron out any differences between the two bills. Perkins decided to go with the Senate Appropriations Committee: Sens. Wyatt Agar, R-Thermopolis; Eli Bebout, R-Riverton; Mike Gierau, D-Jackson; Larry Hicks, R-Baggs; and Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan.
Harshman said he will be sending the senior members of the House Appropriations Committee: Reps. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander; Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne; Andy Schwartz, D-Jackson; Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale; and Tom Walters, R-Casper.
The group will start meeting this week to begin negotiations.