CHEYENNE — With one day left in the 2019 general session, the Wyoming House of Representatives could potentially be returning to Cheyenne for a day next week after Gov. Mark Gordon vetoed several of the chamber’s recommendations in the state’s supplemental budget.
In a letter to Speaker of the House Steve Harshman, R-Casper, on Tuesday afternoon, Gordon struck appropriations for several key programs the House of Representatives had backed, including funding to promote Wyoming agricultural products in Asia, funding to study a means toward free college in Wyoming and funding for military housing in Cheyenne.
In his letter to the House, Gordon explained the line items he vetoed either fell outside of the traditional mechanisms of a supplemental budget or, in his words, included provisions that extend beyond “appropriations for the ordinary expenses” of state government. In some cases, Gordon wrote, the appropriations even undermine the functions of the executive branch’s authority and “could be construed to foreclose the Governor from using his or her office’s constitutional authorities.”
“There’s some very interesting things in here,” said House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, in an address to the House. “If you read through the first few pages, you get the gist of what his personal beliefs are on what should and should not be in a budget. We disagree with his conclusions.”
Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, of the House Appropriations Committee, said the committee would meet Wednesday morning to decide which vetoes the body will attempt to override by two-thirds vote. Once those bills are selected, the House could then adjourn sine die — meaning closing business with no set deadline on when they return — and vote next Monday.
This action has traditionally been used sparingly, Harshman said. However, the House of Representatives has carried out a veto override 23 times before.
“That is a legislative power we do not take lightly, but at times, we have used it,” Harshman told the House. “Really, our next opportunity for a veto override would be next Monday.”
This timeline is made even more complicated by the fact the House of Representatives is already two days behind schedule, having missed a key voting deadline for bills Monday, leaving them one additional working day to take a final vote on nine bills.
While constituting only about 1 percent of the state’s overall spending this session, the supplemental budget has been the source of an unusual amount of strife this legislative session, with the Senate and House of Representatives largely divergent on what the budget should do.
While the Senate has stuck to the line that the budget bill should be used for emergencies and unanticipated expenses exclusively, the House has used the supplemental budget this session to expend small amounts of funding to leverage larger amounts of funding.
One rejected appropriation in the bill, for example, would be matched “6-to-1,” Nicholas said, by Sheridan County School District 2 for a principal education pilot program there.
In a walking conversation with reporters in the halls of the temporary capitol Tuesday night, Gordon said the line item vetoes weren’t necessarily meant to “set a tone” but rather, to return the House to more “traditional” budgeting practices, including spending more time on some projects in interim committee and giving line items more time in the public eye in an effort to improve transparency, he said.
“I had some concerns of practice which sort of come about from habit more than anything else,” Gordon said.
“I believe that we have a really good working relationship,” he added. “I’m not trying to send any earth-shattering message. I’m just trying to do my job.”
As far as the differences in philosophy seen between the House and the Senate in this year’s budgeting processes, Gordon said that, with his letter, was not trying to weigh too heavily into any of the perspectives on budgeting espoused by either chamber.
“I think they’ve tried to work together,” said Gordon. “There’s moments where they seem to go in different directions. But they’ve tried to be collegial.”
“From my framework, I was trying to be practical in how we address things, and look at the items that made sense for me to consider,” he added. “I’m sure they’re working their side, and I’m sure we’ll see what’s coming out of that. But overall, I’m happy with what we’ve done this session.”