CASPER, Wyo. — Lawmakers in the Wyoming House killed a Senate bill that would've cut tens of millions from schools over the next three years, setting up a budget fight between the two chambers.
The bill -- titled Senate File 117 -- represented the Senate's main attempt at solving the education funding crisis. Its death at the hands of the House Education Committee comes a year after House leaders refused to touch a similar Senate measure.
At one point educators said SF 117, sponsored by Cowley Republican Sen. Ray Peterson, would've cut as much as $150 million a year. But Peterson made a number of changes before the Senate passed the bill that trimmed down the cuts significantly.
Among other things, the now-dead Senate bill would have increased class size and tightened how schools calculate their enrollment -- and thus determine their financial needs.
Educators had said the Senate measure was intended as a bargaining chip, a way to draw a cut-wary House to the table and negotiate school cuts. Earlier Friday, Peterson confirmed there was truth to that.
"Somewhat," he told the Star-Tribune. "That's what it was."
Speaking Friday morning, before House lawmakers killed his bill, Peterson said he hoped the House would look at some of his proposals and consider them as part of a final education deal.
He added that he thought educators' frustrated and worried response to the original version of the bill was "understandable" but a "bit of an overreaction."
The House passed a bill with more modest cuts. It attempts to shift money to help fund schools into the future. Peterson predicted the two chambers would settle on education cuts between $20 million and $30 million per year.
But the death of the Senate's bill doesn't mean the fight is over. For one, the Senate will still consider the House bill and will have the opportunity to amend it. Any changes will prompt a group of lawmakers from each chamber to meet and negotiate, which is what happened at the very end of last year's session.
The Senate has a backup plan beyond tinkering with the House measure. Lawmakers there effectively folded the language of SF 117 into their budget, which will force an eventual negotiation between the two.
It's a nearly identical situation to last session. The House supported an omnibus bill that called for $36 million in annual school cuts, along with tapping savings and shifting revenue. The Senate, meanwhile, proposed a cut-heavy measure while setting a heavy backup cut in their budget. The House killed the Senate bill, the Senate heavily amended the House bill, and the two negotiated until the final hours of the session.