Legislative Update: Responsibly allocating a budget surplus
As the 67th General Session of the Wyoming Legislature passes the halfway mark, I write with a grateful heart for the honor to serve you and a firm resolve to continue the good work on behalf of the people of Wyoming.
As the Wyoming House and Senate tackled budget deliberations on the floor last week, we continue what is perhaps the Legislature’s most important responsibility: balancing our state’s checkbook and allocating taxpayers’ hard-earned money.
Unlike many recent sessions, this year lawmakers are faced with the enviable question of how to appropriate a nearly $2 billion surplus. That’s a big departure from only two years ago, when our state had one of the largest budget deficits in its history. Many members, and voters, will remember the tough spending reductions that had to be made in the wake of the COVID pandemic and bottomed-out energy prices to keep our finances in the black.
The Senate and House will spend the next weeks hashing out the differences between the final versions of the budget bill. This will be done by a group of five senators and five house members, known as the conference committee, who will then bring the bill to both chambers. After the House and Senate votes to agree on the negotiated budget bill, it will be sent to the Governor.
The Senate and House budget bills are remarkably closer than they have been in years. There was about a $1.5 million difference between the House and Senate versions. Both the House and Senate put nearly $1 billion into savings. The Senate passed 41 amendments to the budget bill and the House passed 42 budget amendments. Of those amendments, 11 are considered mirror amendments, meaning they are very similar, and there is no need for wrangling by the conference committee.
The big differences between the House and Senate bills are where to put the savings. The Senate wants to make a big deposit of the money into permanent savings.
The House placed the bulk of the savings into reserve accounts, like the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust and the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund, which are more liquid. I am glad there is agreement on the need to save money – now we just need to decide the best place to put it.
Both the House and Senate versions save almost twice as much they spend, with $1 billion in savings and about $515 million in spending. The Senate version of the budget bill allocates $28 million to property tax relief while the House spends more money on health care.
Overall, the House and Senate bills take different sides on where the savings go and what to spend it on, but they reflect a Wyoming Legislature fully aware of the up and down nature of Wyoming’s economy.
Please email me at Dan.Dockstader@wyoleg.gov if you have thoughts on legislation being discussed during this session.