Tom Lubnau: Budget Conference Negotiations – What Has Happened So Far

Columnist Tom Lubnau writes, "The House and Senate Committees ended up a mere $900 million dollars apart. The House said, in essence, Senate we don’t think we can make a deal with you. We’ve waited four days for a proposal, and this is the best you can do. We’re done."

Tom Lubnau

March 05, 20246 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

A lot of strange things happened this year in preparing the budget.

The Wyoming budget is a product of many months of work.  As detailed in a previous column, state agencies start preparing the budget in the summer.  Then, the governor reviews the budget with agency heads, and then submits it to the Joint Appropriations Committee, which is a committee of comprised of five Senators and seven Representatives.  

The Joint Appropriations Committee has hearings on the budget for two months prior to the session. The committee meets a couple weeks in December and a couple weeks in January. Agency heads are called in front of the committee, and they are examined by members of the committee about their budgets. 

Then, the committee meets, marks up the budget and the entire Joint Appropriations Committee votes on their proposed budget. Each of the Committee members has input into the budget. Once the final budget is approved by the committee, it is finalized as the budget bill.

Identical budget bills are submitted to the House and the Senate at the beginning of the session. Typically, during the hearings on the budget bill on the floor of the legislature, the Appropriations Committee members from each body defend the budget they spent two months creating.  

Strange Days, Indeed

A couple of strange things happened this year. In April, citing a lack of communication, Senate President Ogden Driskill replaced Chair Dave Kinskey with Sen. Tara Nethercott. Nethercott was the chair of the committee for the budget hearings.

At the beginning of the session, the Senate body overruled President Driskill, and removed Nethercott as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and replaced her with Sen. Dave Kinskey. Open rebellion against the President of the Senate is not typical.

Then, Kinskey, as Chair of the Appropriations Committee, did not defend the budget. Instead, he worked with others in the Senate to strip $1.1 billion dollars out of the bill he helped create. His reason for the $1.1 billion change of heart was quoted as “buyer’s remorse.”

After both houses pass the bill on third reading, conference committees are appointed by both the House and Senate to meet and try to reach a compromise bill.

At this point in the 20-day budget session, time is short. The committees need to meet, try to discuss their differences, and reach a compromise bill. Not only does a compromise have to be reached, but the Legislative Service Office needs about a day to write the proposed budget bill in a form that can be passed into law.

Typically, discussions start right after the budget bills are passed, and continue in earnest until a compromise is reached. Negotiation and back and forth between the houses occurs until a compromise is reached.

The last time a compromise was not reached was in 1999, when the State of Wyoming was nearly bankrupt.

I've Been Waiting

This year, another funny thing happened. Right after the budget bill was passed, the House met with the Senate, and made a proposal to compromise on the bill.

Then, for reasons only known to the Senate, the Senate waited four precious days to call a meeting and get back with the House Committee to make a proposal.

The House and Senate Committees ended up a mere $900 million dollars apart. The House said, in essence, Senate we don’t think we can make a deal with you. We’ve waited four days for a proposal, and this is the best you can do. We’re done.

At this point, when one house stops negotiating, the committee has failed.  

With a typical bill, a second committee can be appointed, or the bill can be left to die. Budget bills, on the other hand, have to be passed.

Appointment of the second committee rests within the discretion of the speaker of the house and the president of the senate.  Sometimes, the presiding officer will appoint the same committee, and sometimes the presiding officer will appoint another committee.

The Replacements

President Driskill decided to replace the entire committee. Again, another funny thing happened.  

The Senate moved to reject the committee members appointed by President Driskill.  After an hour of heated, and to the outsider, somewhat humiliating debate, the Senate deadlocked 15 votes to 15 votes.

Since the motion to reject the committee required a majority vote, it failed.  

On the House side, Speaker Albert Sommers kept the committee pretty much the same, except he took Democrat Trey Sherwood off the committee and put himself on it.

Now, the House and Senate will try to negotiate a budget, again. 

In the first committee, if provisions of the budget bill look exactly the same in the House version as they do the Senate version, those provisions are off the table for discussion. 

In the second committee, every paragraph of the bill is up for debate and discussion.  Thus, the committee is called a free committee.


The governor has three days in which to review the budget bill, and decide if there are portions, he might want to line-item veto. Given the contentious session, line-item vetoes are expected.

If the legislature wants to override the vetoes made by the governor, they have to be in session.  A vote to override a gubernatorial veto takes a 2/3 majority. Given it takes one day to prepare the budget bill, if the legislature wanted to adjourn on time, it would have had to have finished the budget bill by Monday night. That didn’t happen.

The legislature adjourned three days early last year, so it has three days it can tack onto the back of this session. Without going into a special session, they can stay in session until next Wednesday.

Special Session?

If the Committees cannot arrive at a budget bill by Thursday night, either the legislature won’t be able to override the governor’s vetoes, or they will have to have a special session to pass the budget bill.

When I was in the legislature many years ago, we estimated the cost of the legislative session to be about $70,000 per day. Others have estimated it lower, but at least $40,000 per day.  

Staying three days next week will cost $120,000 to $210,000.   A special session will be more.

Suffice it to say, it has been an interesting and eventful budget session.

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Tom Lubnau