Legislature has work to do to bridge budget bills

CHEYENNE — Wyoming's two legislative chambers are about $70 million apart in their versions of the supplemental budget bill. 

Both the House and Senate passed their budget bills late Thursday. The House's version contains $51 million in spending beyond the recommendations of the Joint Appropriations Committee. The Senate comes in at $19 million less than the JAC's recommendations.

"I imagine we'll try to caucus out and see what we want to do," said Senate President Drew Perkins, R-Casper. "They started out the same, and the Senate stayed relatively static. 

The (difference in) money that's allocated is in different areas. So it will be interesting how we rectify that and how you conference that out."

A big portion of that $70 million difference is in education funding. The House increased the external cost adjustment for schools, which helps defray the effect of inflation on the education budget formula, by about $21 million over what was included by the JAC. The Senate cut down its external cost adjustment formula, which resulted in about $9 million less.

Speaker of the House Steve Harshman, R-Casper, said there were some substantial differences when it comes to education funding. But he had faith the conference committee members who would be tasked with bringing the gap between the two budgets would be successful. 

"Big difference there," Harshman said. "It will all be negotiated out, and it will be right in the public arena.

"You keep working it and working it, and soon you get to a balanced budget that can do a lot of good."

Another place where the two chambers are far apart is funding for the Wyoming Department of Revenue. The House included $15 million in additional funding to finance a new revenue tracking system, something Harshman said was necessary as the current system continues to age. The Senate cut funding for the department by $5 million from what was recommended by the JAC. 

"It's the same system we've had for decades. Upgrade, upgrade, upgrade," Harshman said. "Minerals pay half our taxes. We want to make sure all that's done appropriately and efficiently. So we'll negotiate those points."

While the two chambers had some substantial differences, neither Perkins nor Harshman expressed any real concern about bridging the gap. 

Perkins said the reason the Senate took a more static approach was its view of the purpose of the supplemental budget. 

"The Senate, as a whole, has an approach that the supplemental budget is initially for unanticipated emergencies, or things that we didn't anticipate, or that have changed in circumstances since we passed the biennium budget," Perkins said. "You have already budgeted for two years. There's a handful of items in Department of Health and Department of Family Services and one or two other places where we have to have some resolution. But the rest of it, it's a supplemental budget."

Both Perkins and Harshman said they'd be appointing members to the conference committee in the coming days.