Legislative Update – Feb. 21, 2016
by Albert Sommers, House District #20 Representative
February 21, 2016
Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Sommers reporting to you from Cheyenne on Sunday the 21st.
A couple more items of interest occurred last week that I wanted to elaborate on.
One of the four new budget bills this session was a local government funding bill. In my short tenure, this is the first time we have funded local government in its own bill. The Joint Appropriation Committee provided $90 million for cities, towns and counties out of the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account, our rainy day fund, and this account had about $1.8 billion prior to this legislative session. On second reading, I co-sponsored an amendment to increase the provision from $90 million to $105 million, which was the amount the Governor had recommended, and the amendment passed. The Appropriations Committee funded this bill out of the rainy day account, I suspect, to ensure that local government funding did not compete with dollars spent on construction projects in other budget bills. Local governments get money from traditional taxing sources, but each year additional dollars are appropriated by the Legislature, which recognizes the challenges local governments face. Two amendments on this bill passed the House. These amendments redistributed money based upon formulas that attempt to create financial equity among cities, towns, and counties. The amendments hurt Sublette County, because our tax base, per capita, is very robust compared to other counties in Wyoming. I supported the distribution formula created for hardship counties, because the statewide county commissioner association and our commissioners supported the amendment. I did not support the redistribution amendment for cities and towns, because the Wyoming Association of Municipalities did not support the proposed formula. I have always supported funding to local government, because these entities maintain the infrastructure necessary for our local communities to function.
On Friday, Feb. 19, efforts to allow Medicaid Expansion to move forward in Wyoming failed in the Senate, when a third reading budget amendment was unsuccessful. No bill or amendment was offered in the House, where I serve, with regard to Medicaid Expansion. I have received several comments from Sublette County residents, both pro and con, on the topic of Medicaid Expansion in Wyoming. The county commissioner’s association came out in strong support of expansion this session, but the commissioners’ opinion did not sway the Senate. Based upon my personal communications with members of the House, there was very little support to expand this program. We need to address this expansion population, the working poor of Wyoming, because they have no access to health care dollars provided in the Affordable Care Act. However, I remain torn about the decision on Medicaid Expansion, until I see consistent representations of its effect on our state budget. I received a powerful letter from a single working mother of two in Sublette County, who makes too much money to be eligible for Medicaid, but does not make enough money to be eligible for premium supports for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. She needs health insurance, but she wants to keep working. Without Medicaid Expansion, we seem to incentivize people to either quit working and get traditional Medicaid or use the emergency room through charity care. The legislative leadership and the Governor need to sit down and develop some solutions for health care, and create a path forward for a whole host of health care issues, ranging from Medicaid Expansion to involuntary hospitalization to the developmentally disabled. We need to do this in a manner that respects these challenged populations and our declining state revenues.