by HD20 Representative Albert Sommers
March 6, 2014
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Sommers reporting to you from Cheyenne on Thursday. The 2014 Budget Session came to end on Thursday afternoon. The 2015-16 budget exceeds $8.5 billion, when federal dollars are included. Our general fund appropriations for 2015-16 is around $3.5 billion compared to the last biennium budget of $3.4 billion, which means we have held the line on state spending. We put $220 million into various savings accounts, including $100 million into a newly created School Foundation Program Reserve Account, which continues the legislature’s commitment to saving the people’s money for uncertain times. With coal leasing becoming less certain our school funding is less certain, because coal lease bonuses account for a large percentage of the funding for school capital construction. Creating a savings account to address this shortage seems to be a prudent idea. We appropriated $175 million for local government funding, and Sublette County governments will see a $300,000 increase in funding over the previous budget. Sublette County received a total of $2.4 million for 2015-16. During 2015-16, Big Piney will receive $119,109, Marbleton $192,307, and Pinedale $352,751, which is an increase for all three communities over the last budget. The final budget included a $39.5 million increase in state employee compensation from the general fund, which included employees of the executive and judicial branches, University of Wyoming and community colleges. In addition, we have increased the K12 External Cost Adjustment and salaries by $38.15 million. State employees have not seen an increase in wages for some time, and this was a conservative approach. The University of Wyoming received over 460 million in general fund dollars. This appropriation included $8 million for the Tier 1 Engineering College, $2.5 million for literacy programs, and $2 million for athletic recruitment. We appropriated $327 million in general fund dollars to community colleges, including $14.3 million to compensate for increased enrollment. Our community colleges serve an important role in creating the workforce for Wyoming, and we need to maintain our commitment to these institutions. We put $10 million dollars to the Wyoming Wildlife Natural Resource Trust Fund and $4.2 million general fund dollars to the Tourism Board’s national marketing effort. These are just a few highlights of the budget. My greatest concern with the budget process is that too much legislating is occurring within the budget bill, in the form of footnotes. Budget footnotes are a poor way to legislate, because they are not vetted in the same open, transparent manner as a bill. We should further restrict the number of bills that can be brought in a budget session by an individual legislator, because too many bills detract from our primary responsibility of understanding the budget. There were over 400 bills drafted for this session, with 300 bills being numbered and brought forth. In the end only 136 bills passed the session, including 55 individual bills. If you have questions about the session, please feel free to contact me, as I will be heading home tomorrow.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Hello Sublette County this is Albert Sommers reporting to you from the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon. We passed SF97 today in final reading, and it establishes a process for the state of Wyoming to initiate large scale economic development loans that create a substantial job base. The process that was created has layers of checks and balances from the Wyoming Business Council to the state Treasurer to the State Lands and Investment Board to the Governor. I voted for this bill which puts $25 million dollars into a special account for projects, and is designed to fit a project in Cody, involving the expansion of a drug manufacturing facility, but I do worry about past Wyoming failures in this arena. Diversifying Wyoming’s economy is important, especially with Washington’s war on coal, and this economic development vehicle should help with diversification. We have a few Conference Committees to complete, on issues where the House and Senate disagree, and then this budget Session will be over. Management Council handed the issue of the duties of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to the Joint Education Committee, which I am a member of, and asked us to provide solutions by the end of April. I feel the time frame is a bit ambitious. Once again, I believe we should do as the court asked, repeal SF104, and bring a constitutional amendment to the people which gives them a choice between a Superintendent with historic duties and one whose duties are only prescribed by law. This issue has a life of its own, and I have no idea where it will end up. Goodnight for now.
When folks go to bed Saturday night, they should set their clocks forward one hour.