CHEYENNE — With just three full days remaining in this year’s legislative session, leaders of the Wyoming House and Senate remain divided on how to close the state’s $850 million budget deficit.
The Senate continues to call for much deeper cuts to public education in Wyoming, while the House plan has fewer spending reductions and diverts some money that normally goes into savings accounts to pay for schools.
A joint committee with lawmakers from both chambers was appointed to bridge differences between the two plans but has yet to do so. It met on both Friday and Monday, though adjourned its second meeting without resolving any of the major disputes.
The committee was scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon, though a staff member for the Legislative Service Office said that Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, cancelled the meeting minutes before it was scheduled to begin.
Members of the committee met with both House Speaker Steve Harshman, R-Casper, and Senate President Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, throughout the day.
Harshman and Bebout met with each other late Tuesday afternoon, though neither were available for interviews.
“We are continuing to work together to deliver the best solution that we can for the people of Wyoming. The process works and we’re working within the process,” Harshman and Bebout said in a joint statement.
The impasse makes it highly unlikely that the Legislature will conclude on Friday if legislators want the option to override line-item vetoes by Gov. Matt Mead. Mead has three days from the time that he is sent a budget to veto individual parts of the document, which lawmakers can then seek to override with a two-thirds vote.
However, if the Legislature concludes its session with fewer than three days remaining, it would be impossible to reject Mead’s changes. That creates an incentive for the House and Senate to reach a deal immediately so that a budget could be sent to Mead on Wednesday, with the opportunity to consider his vetoes Saturday.
Technically, the 20-day budget session extends to Saturday because the Legislature did not officially convene this year until a Tuesday, with Mead delivering his State of the State address on the first Monday that lawmakers gathered in Cheyenne this year.
However, there was little indication that the two chambers were close to a compromise by late on Tuesday.
The Legislature has two days “saved” from last year’s general session and can extend this year’s meeting through Tuesday. If lawmakers are unable to complete a budget by then, Gov. Matt Mead can call them back to a special session to work until a spending plan is finalized.