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Representative Tom Walters

Appropriations members say budget difference just part of the process

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By Cowboy State Daily

Differences between the House and Senate over the proposed supplemental budget are just part of the legislative process and center largely on what constitutes necessary spending, two members of the Joint Appropriations Committee said Thursday.

Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Tom Walters, R-Casper, agreed that the two bodies will bridge the $70 million gap between the House and Senate versions of the budget.

“Being the wonderful process that it is, we’ll get together and figure out our differences and in the next couple of weeks we’ll have a good supplemental budget that Wyoming can be proud of,” Walters said.

The Legislature approves a two-year budget during even-numbered years. The supplemental budget is a mechanism to provide funding for needs that may arise between the Legislature’s budget session. The supplemental budget submitted this year to the Legislature by the Joint Appropriations Committee outlines spending from the state’s main bank account or “General Fund” of $119 million.

The House and Senate finished their independent reviews of the budget this week. The House added $51 million in spending, while the Senate cut $19 million. The Senate is now reviewing the House changes to the budget while the House is reviewing the Senate version. A “conference committee” will later be appointed to reach a compromise between the two versions.

Bebout said many in the Senate consider the supplemental budget a way to pay for emergencies.

“So I felt we ought to deal with emergencies and as we worked through the budget, that’s where the House had differences from the Senate,” he said. “That’s the process. We talk about it, we debate, you take the vote…”

Part of the difference between the two bodies stems from education funding. The House increased the “external cost adjustment” for schools — an amount designed to help ease the impact of inflation on schools — by $21 million. The Senate cut the amount by $9 million.

Another difference is a software upgrade proposed for in Department of Revenue. The House added $15 million to JAC’s recommendation, while the Senate cut it by $5 million.

“Quite frankly, I didn’t think a lot of the things we brought up as we worked through the process … in the House vs. the Senate, that we had $52 million in additional spending that we needed,” Bebout said. “I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have some, but I felt that was more than I was willing to accept.”

Legislators take up a host of education bills

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By Cowboy State Daily

Support for a plan to expand eligibility for the state’s Hathaway Scholarship is being voiced by groups that have not spoken out on the scholarship program before, according to the chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

SF 43, a bill that gained final Senate approval on Wednesday, would allow students taking technical and trade classes rather than foreign language classes to be eligible for the state-sponsored scholarship.

Coe said during debate on the bill, he’s heard from groups that have never testified on the program before, largely because the state needs more students trained through Career Technical Education programs or CTE.

“The (Wyoming) Stockgrowers (Association), the Business Alliance, the (Wyoming) Contractors (Association), all the people that support CTE” he said. “It’s a signficant problem in the state of Wyoming. There’s jobs that exist out there, but they can’t get skilled people to fill those jobs.”

The bill was approved on a vote of 28-2 in its third reading in the Senate. The bill now heads to the House for review by the state’s representatives.

On the House side, the House Education Committee is preparing to take up another education bill — one that would allow local school districts to set standards for the evaluation of their teachers.

The bill, HB 22, would require teachers to be evaluated annually until they meet performance standards two years in a row. After that, a teacher would only need to be evaluated once every three years at a principal’s discretion.

The evaluation every three years would provide a welcome relief for principals, said Kathy Vetter of the Wyoming Education Association 

“It frees up some time for our principals to be instructional leaders and not just be doing the paperwork on teachers they feel are  master teachers already,” she said.

Another House Committee, the Appropriations Committee, is looking at a bill that would repeal the state’s Family College Savings Program.

HB 118, proposed by Rep. Tom Walters, R-Casper, does away with a program that is not necessary, he said.

State law calls for the state treasurer to set up and administer a statewide college savings program as a trust to hold money deposited in it by Wyoming residents.

However, Walters said the issue was more about tax savings than paying for education. Federal programs already exist that allow people to get a tax break for money they put into special savings accounts. 

But Wyoming has no income tax, so the program had no benefit and was not being used, Walters said.

“Wyoming just didn’t have a need to set that up,” he said. “Somebody at one point thought we may, so we put it on the books. It was looked into, but never taken advantage of. No one wanted to use it because there already other mechanisms out there. Folks all over the state … are taking advantage of these plans. They’re just not using the Wyoming plan.”

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