Chaos In Wyoming Senate After Driskill Boots Budget Team

Members of the Wyoming Senate reached a boiling point Monday night over failure to bridge a $1.1 billion gap in budget negotiations with the House. Senate President Ogden Driskill then fired his budget team and replaced them with new members.

Leo Wolfson

March 05, 20248 min read

State Sen. Dave Kinskey, left, pleaded for more time to hammer out a budget with the Wyoming House, but Senate President Ogden Driskill, right, appointed a new negotiating committee.
State Sen. Dave Kinskey, left, pleaded for more time to hammer out a budget with the Wyoming House, but Senate President Ogden Driskill, right, appointed a new negotiating committee. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

The loudest fireworks of the 2024 legislative session so far exploded in the Wyoming Senate on Monday night.

On a 15-15 vote, the Senate voted to uphold Senate President Ogden Driskill’s decision to appoint a new Joint Conference Committee (JCC) in its budget negotiations with the House as they are still around $400 million apart on agreeing on the next biennial budget.

The vote came down to the very last member, with Driskill casting the tying 15th vote needed to reject overturning his selections.

This followed nearly an hour of heated debate about whether the Senate should override Driskill’s appointees to the second JCC, which will be made up by Driskill, Sens. Dan Dockstader, R-Star Valley, Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, and Stacy Jones, R-Rock Springs.

Sens. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, and Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, led the charge to overturn Driskill’s new selections, arguing that the original JCC should be continued. They represent some of the most conservative members in the Senate, and Driskill raised more than a few eyebrows when he put it together.

“There’s more than ample time to have this committee find a budget,” Hicks said. “We need to have this committee continue to work on budget.”

With the second JCC decision finalized, the Senate effectively ruled that it will go in a different direction with its budget negotiating process to a more moderate panel.

The makeup of the second House JCC will be similar, aside from House Speaker Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, replacing Rep. Trey Sherwood, D-Laramie.

The shakeup comes as a Monday deadline for the House and Senate to bridge a $1.1 billion gap in their budget proposals passed without that happening.

Able To Save It?

Kinskey was the center of controversy when he was removed by Driskill as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee during the interim, then reappointed when the Senate overturned that decision. Kinskey also was appointed to the first Senate JCC.

He argued vehemently on multiple occasions Monday night that his JCC could still save a conservative budget it had hoped for and that negotiations with the House weren’t over or in vain.

“We weren’t failing, we were succeeding,” Kinskey said.

But that’s not what Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, declared at the end of the JCC meeting just a few hours prior on Monday.

“I think we are unanimous in the concept that it is not reasonable that we are going to come to an agreement,” Nicholas said. “We have barely scratched the surface of it.”

Kinskey tried to convince Nicholas to continue working toward a compromise on the budget being haggled out between the two groups, but Nicholas wouldn’t budge.

The Senate JCC had provided a $344.5 million counteroffer that put the two chambers’ budgets around $800 million apart, much closer to the Senate’s original budget proposal and still a sizable difference.

Entering the JCC negotiations, the two chambers had been about $1.1 billion apart.

Sen. Bo Biteman was one of many state senators who expressed anger and frustration with failed budget negotiations with the Wyoming House.
Sen. Bo Biteman was one of many state senators who expressed anger and frustration with failed budget negotiations with the Wyoming House. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

Huge Rift

“I never have seen a difference between the two Houses that approaches the magnitude of this one,” said Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, who has served in the Legislature since 1978.

The Senate’s counteroffer to spend at least $344.5 million more than its original budget came in response to the House’s original offer last week that left $651 million of spending on the table.

Kinskey and Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, described the House’s original proposal as lacking compromise.

“It sounds like the House position was to keep all the big-ticket items,” Biteman said. “I don’t see how that’s good faith negotiations.”

The Senate restored $105 million of the capital construction projects that the House had wanted and some of the governor’s energy matching project funds, as well as meeting some of the House’s staff increase requests.

But lacking in the Senate JCC’s counteroffer were key measures that the House opposed such as removing the University of Wyoming Gender Studies program and funding for its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office and programming.

Exactly half of the $110 million in funding for major school construction was also restored, but without granting permission to immediately start construction as desired until a new methodologies test is completed.

The Senate also refused to fund the $40 million 988 suicide hotline trust fund, but did agree to fully fund the 988 call centers through 2026.

Tensions Flare

Tempers boiled over at numerous times during the more than hour-long discussion, and at times from some unexpected sources.

Sen. John Kolb, R-Rock Springs, one of the more mild-mannered members of the body, expressed irritation with Driskill’s synopsis of the JCC’s efforts and accused him of purposely setting it up to fail.

This same point was brought up by Biteman earlier in the discussion, with Driskill taking offense to the accusation and calling a point of order.

Lack of loyalty to the budget crafted by the committee was a point of frustration that Driskill expressed at multiple junctures Monday. He described the Senate as having a style and a personality problem.

“That budget represented us, that did a big disservice,” he said. “The people that didn’t speak up did a bigger disservice.”

Kolb also criticized Driskill’s selection of his original Joint Appropriations Committee.

“I’m sitting here and listening to this and I just can’t take it anymore,” Kolb said. “I’m not going to sit here and be quiet. I’m not going to sit here and let people say things that I believe aren’t functionally true. It’s about feelings, it’s about leadership.”

Three of the members appointed to the five-member JCC had no experience in any past budget negotiating process, but Driskill said he selected them to represent the conservative wishes of a Senate that passed a budget he openly disagreed with.

Kinskey said he expressed trepidation about these three members at first, but grew to appreciate their presence, calling it “a blessing.”

Jones and Dockstader cast the surprise votes Monday as both had voted against many of the budget proposals that had come to the Senate from the Joint Appropriations Committee.

Nethercott defended the committee’s $10.7 billion budget as being “plain jane” and lacking significant spending measures. She also pointed out that many Senate members who voted against parts of this budget had voted to support the same measures last year in the supplemental budget. Nethercott referred to their approach as a “bludgeon.”

Hicks was seen walking with Jones up to his office after the Senate adjourned for the day.

Sen. Larry Hicks
Sen. Larry Hicks (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)


Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, also expressed great frustration with the way the budget process has played out. Before the session had begun, the Legislature’s Management Council had specifically structured the session so that the budget would be given a first priority and dealt with in an expedient manner.

“I’ll tell you what it takes — statesmanship,” Landen said. “We better find some statesmen and better grow them.”

Despite already being behind schedule, Kinskey had the Senate JCC wait four days to respond to the House’s original budget proposal that it made last Thursday.

“Quite frankly, Mr. co-chair, the delay in this was because it took you four days to respond to something we could have done in six hours or four hours,” Nicholas said. “What’s the likelihood that we’re going to get any further over the next $900 million and we only have 2 ½ to 3 days left?”

Driskill warned the senators that by continuing to stay with the same JCC, it would only further delay the budget being finished and lead to the calling of a special session.

Monday at midnight had been the deadline to present a budget to Gov. Mark Gordon with enough time to override the governor’s vetoes by the time the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn Friday.

With that deadline missed, an extra but available three days will almost certainly be added to the session next week to finish the budget. Assuming that scenario plays out, to override the governor’s vetoes, the new budget will have to be presented to Gordon by midnight Thursday.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter