House, Senate reach initial deal on biennial budget


CHEYENNE — After a few months of crafting the nearly $3 billion state budget for the 2021-22 biennium, lawmakers from the House and Senate reached an initial agreement Friday night.

After approving their separate versions of the budget bill last week, the House and Senate still disagreed on about a dozen amendments. To reach a compromise, a group of lawmakers assigned from both chambers, known as a joint conference committee, spent much of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday working through the bill.

All of the joint conference members were from the Joint Appropriations Committee, which has been meeting since December with state agencies to discuss funding options.

The final disagreements between the two chambers covered a wide range of funding issues, including the University of Wyoming law school endowment, an inflation adjustment for the state's K-12 education system and health insurance plans for unfilled teaching positions within the state.

Ultimately, both sides were willing to make concessions to reach an agreement. Senate members, for example, were hesitant to fund the second year of the inflation adjustment. The sides agreed to fully fund the first year's adjustment at about $19 million, and after some back and forth, the two sides agreed to split the difference on the second year, appropriating roughly $10 million for the adjustment in fiscal year 2022.

The sides also reached an agreement on matching funds for the state's community colleges. Based on the agreement, $5 million will go to the Wyoming Community College Commission to be distributed to the seven community colleges in the state, while another $5 million will be directly distributed to the colleges. The sides also agreed to cut matching funds for the UW law school down to $1.25 million.

Another point that had been extensively debated was funding for health insurance plans of vacant positions in the state's K-12 education system. The committee members agreed to reduce the funding by roughly $2.5 million in fiscal year 2021 and by roughly $5 million in fiscal year 2022.

After reaching a deal on the budget, lawmakers on the working committee went around the room and shook hands, relieved to have finally cleared the last hurdles. But before the group adjourned, Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, who co-chairs the Joint Appropriations Committee, reminded his colleagues that they would still have to go back to the Senate and House to present the final agreement.

"We're not to the finish line, but we're a lot closer than we were a few hours ago," Bebout said.

Assuming the final version of the nearly $3 billion budget is agreed upon in both chambers, the budget bill will then go to Gov. Mark Gordon, who will have three days next week to make line-item vetos to the proposal. The Legislature will then have a final chance to potentially override those vetos at the end of next week, which marks the end of the session.

Assuming the final version of the nearly $3 billion budget is agreed upon in both chambers, the proposal will then go to Gov. Mark Gordon, who will have three days next week to make line-item vetos to the budget.

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