CHEYENNE, Wyo. – The Wyoming Legislature is nearly drawing to a close, but plenty of work remains to be done.
Both the House and the Senate are off on Monday. Once they convene, they will appoint conferees to reconcile differences in their respective budget amendments.
Meanwhile, scores of other bills remain to be heard before a deadline on Friday — the last day for House bills to get their first approval in the full Senate, and vice versa. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn the following week, on Thurs., March 3.
House Speaker Ed Buchanan, R-Torrington, said Friday he doesn't anticipate much difficulty in resolving differences in the House and Senate versions of the budget.
“We've got a few minor differences, mainly with individual amendments on both sides,” Buchanan said.
Buchanan noted that both houses agreed on the largest budget amendments. They both approved $45 million in supplemental funding to local governments and both approved transferring $15 million from a reserve fund to establish a fund to renovate landfills around the state.
“On the big-picture items, like cities towns and counties, we're on the same page, and the numbers aren't too far off, either,” Buchanan said. “There's no big gorilla amendment out there that we're going to have to fight over.”
All told, the House and the Senate each calls for spending roughly $250 million in the supplemental budget. According to state revenues projections, that amount of spending would still leave more than $1 billion in the state's “rainy day” fund — the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account — at the end of the fiscal year that runs through June 2012.
The supplemental budget bill is in addition to the established, two-year, $2.9 billion budget the Legislature approved last year to carry the state through mid-2012. Federal funding for highways and some other projects is in addition to that.
Cash reserves needed
Sen. President Jim Anderson, R-Glenrock, said Friday that lawmakers have been keenly aware of the need to keep available cash reserves high.
Wyoming gets the bulk of its revenues from taxes on energy development and has been largely immune to the financial problems affecting many state governments around the country.
Nonetheless, Anderson said lawmakers are concerned that problems in the larger economy could affect Wyoming.
“We feel that in the past, in the late 1980s and 1990s, when we went into a budget crisis, they had about had a whole year of reserves in place,” Anderson said. “And we're working to get close to a whole year — which would be close to $2 billion in retrievable, rainy day account funds in the event that things should take a radical downturn.”
In addition to resolving the budget, several social issues bills are still in play that will demand attention in the Legislature this week.
Buchanan said he expects the House will discuss a proposed constitutional amendment that has already cleared the Senate that would allow Wyoming voters to decide whether to change the state Constitution to specify that marriage in the state only exists between a man and a woman.
Another Senate bill coming up for a hearing in the House this week would allow Wyoming citizens to carry concealed handguns without a permit. Buchanan said he expects the bill will pass, but said he expects a spirited debate. A similar handgun bill passed the House in the last legislative session but failed in the Senate.
“When you come to a concealed-carry issue, the House has always been pretty supportive of Second Amendment rights,” Buchanan said. “I don't think it's going to have a lot of resistance.”
Anderson said he expects Gov. Matt Mead to forward to the Senate on Tuesday a list of appointees who need Senate confirmation.
“This is when we really start bringing conference committees together, and really start bringing closure so that we can start sending enrolled acts together and finish up the business of the session,” Anderson said.