By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
The Wyoming Legislature has a tentative plan to spend $22 million on itself over the next two years.
After debating possible transparency problems with the internal budget, the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday altered it and advanced it to the Senate Floor, unanimously.
The spending bill later passed its first reading in the Senate as well.
The Wyoming Senate Vice President found parts of the budget non-transparent, according to his statements in the committee meeting.
“I’m not opposed to spending the money,” said Senate Vice President Larry Hicks, R-Baggs. “I’d just like to know what it’s being spent on, or where it’s going.”
A section of the plan would carry forward an unknown amount of money from the prior Legislative budget into this biennium to fund consultations on school funding policy.
It also would carry forward an unknown amount of money for legal fees if the body were sued for its school funding methods.
LSO staff stated after some questioning that school fund consulting services to lawmakers cost about $1 million per biennium, plus more if the K-12 school budget needs recalibrated.
The exact amount of money needed to defend the Legislature from a school-funding lawsuit is unknown, according to LSO representatives.
Hicks said the Legislature as a whole should contemplate that number and designate it through the general fund budget instead of its internal budget. He made an amendment that would stop the carry-over process and make the Legislature assign specific amounts to those needs.
“The idea of just carrying this money over from year to year, to year, is not as transparent as appropriating it in the budget,” added State Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, who backed Hicks’s amendments.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Drew Perkins, R-Casper, cautioned Hicks that it could become a “separation of powers issue,” because the Legislature itself would be the defendant in such a lawsuit.
“It’s pretty unique to put your legal expenses… in the office of the Governor, who might decide he doesn’t agree with that position.”
Salaries, Expenses and Tech
This budget assigned to legislative expenses such as technical needs, legal staff, and lawmakers’ reimbursement and expenses is to be pulled from the $2.8 billion biennium budget now being contemplated for state programs and infrastructure.
The lion’s share of that internal funding, $9 million, would go to the Legislative Service Office staff and expenses. LSO conducts legal research and offers guidance to Wyoming’s elected lawmakers.
Another roughly $1.2 million would go to legislators’ in-session salaries over the next two years. An additional $2.2 million would go toward their salaries during the interim, or law-sculpting months between the late-winter sessions.
Employer paid benefits in addition to those salaries are set to utilize $4.5 million from July of this year until June 30, 2024.
About $2 million of the total is being set aside for mileage and per diem costs for in-state travel. Out-of-state travel expenses are budgeted at about $250,000.
General administrative support used by the legislative branch, such as information technology, copying, and other services, are slated to function on $1 million.
Lesser expenses make up the difference, including session staff salaries, annual dues to legislative, state government and energy councils; registration fees and networking costs.