CASPER — A Campbell County lawmaker has introduced a bill that, if passed, would add $43 million in previously untouchable funding to Wyoming’s public education system.
Sponsored by Gillette Republican Timothy Hallinan, House Joint Resolution 1 would amend Wyoming’s Constitution to shift a portion of the revenues earned from the state’s mineral royalties away from the state’s Common School Permanent Land Fund and directly into public schools, which face a long-term funding deficit of roughly $100-200 million in the coming years.
The legislation, if passed by the legislature and ratified by voters in 2020, would expire after six years.
The permanent land fund, a roughly $4 billion account that generates interest used to fund the state’s school system, has long been used to guarantee a sustainable, long-term source of revenue for the state’s public education system.
However, given the state’s looming budget woes — and expected challenges in finding further ways to reduce education spending — Hallinan’s bill would shift a majority of the funding that would previously have been put into an interest-generating account to instead fund schools directly. The resolution would essentially flip-flop the ratio between the amount of money saved by the state to draw interest and the amount of money already dedicated to directly funding the state’s public education system.
“It’s a good idea for us to look at how we’re going to provide the money that’s needed in the immediate term,” Hallinan said. “The immediate term shows we have a school deficit, and we’re going to need to come up with the money for that deficit. This is one way to take care of at least $40 million to $50 million of that deficit.”
The legislation follows a similar proposal sponsored by Hallinan in the 2019 general session that would have transferred all mineral royalties directly to the state’s public education system, saving none of it. That bill failed in committee on a 4-4-1 vote.
This year’s more conservative iteration of the bill, Hallinan said, was drafted in an attempt to gain more votes.
“They were nibbling at the idea last year, but they wanted less money taken out of the Common School Account,” Hallinan said. “So I reduced it to just two-thirds being taken out. I don’t know how much support there will be — I’ll do some lobbying within the Legislature before the session begins — and we’ll see how it goes.”
“I don’t know how much support it will get,” he added. “But I think it’s needed, and I think it needs to be brought to the Legislature to be looked at again.”
In practice, the legislation would offset a significant chunk of that anticipated shortfall in funding — something lawmakers have long grappled with — in the short term. It would also provide the state’s decision makers with a six-year window to find more holistic ways to reduce education spending outside of a budget session, where reductions in spending can often prove difficult.
All of this, Hallinan said, would come without a tax increase.
“I’ve been in the Legislature six, seven years now,” Hallinan said. “And I haven’t seen any desire on the part of the Legislature to reduce the amount of money that goes into our schools. Small cuts have been made, but nothing of any real size. Therefore, it looks like we need more money to pay for it, and this looks like one way to get some money for our schools in the short term.”
During the six years allotted by the legislation, Hallinan hopes that the economy either improves enough so that the amendment is no longer needed, or that the Legislature would consider alternative options to sustainably fund the state’s education system in the long term and potentially break the Legislature’s habit of storing away revenues for a rainy day when those funds are needed most.
“I think it’s kind of foolish when you have a deficit to be putting money into this sinkhole account that is the common school account,” Hallinan said. “I think it makes more sense in a deficit to use the money that you have available for that deficit, rather than putting all of it into a sinking fund. From an economic standpoint, it makes sense to use that money when it’s needed to operate our government. That’s my ulterior motive for this bill, and we’ll see how it goes.”
The session gavels in Feb. 10.