The 2021 General Session of the Wyoming legislature ended on April 7. There were a total of 441 bills numbered for introduction. All but 178 of those bills died in one of the committees, died on the floor of the House or Senate, or were not considered because of the lack of time. Of the 178 bills that made it through the legislative process, 101 were House Bills and 77 were Senate Files. Legislation that passed both houses has either been acted on or is awaiting action by the Governor.
HB 001 is the supplemental general fund budget bill. It was agreed to by both houses and was signed by the Governor on April 1. The supplemental budget bill includes more than $430 million in State General Fund reductions to the general fund budget.
On the last day of the session three bills regarding education were considered in conference committees. SF 121 – State Funds- Investments and Distributions, raised the spending policy on the Common School Permanent Land Fund. This fund has a balance of $4.5 billion, and the investment income off of this constitutionally created account helps to fund K-12 education.
SF 130 – Charter Schools was also agreed to. This bill allows an entity other than a local school district to authorize a charter school. Under terms of the final agreement between the House and the Senate conferees the State Land and Investment Board, consisting of the Governor, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, State Auditor, and the Superintendent of Public Instruction is to be a second authorizer of a charter school. The final agreement also stipulated that only three charter schools can be authorized before review and further study by the legislature.
Because the House and Senate could not reach agreement, the final bill, HB 173 – School Finance Funding, was not adopted. The House passed a version of this bill which provided a four-part solution to the anticipated $300 million shortfall in K-12 funding. This shortfall is largely the result of a drop in coal production of 250 million tons per year, and the subsequent reduction in ad valorem or property taxes, federal mineral royalties, and federal coal lease bonus payments.
The House proposal would have; 1) Made a reduction to the school foundation funding model of about $80 million phased in over 3 years, 2) Diverted some existing revenue flows from savings to education, 3) Made use of the federal American Recovery Plan (ARP) funds, and 4) Provided a half-cent sales tax increase to be used for education only if our “Rainy Day” account dropped below $650 million.
The House conferees agreed to eliminate the sales tax increase. The House also offered to alter the revenue diversions by not making them permanent. The House met the Senate half-way on the phase in of the cuts. The House remained willing to negotiate a compromise, but the Senate would not budge from their position. Their conference committee members announced an end to the discussions on the floor of the Senate in a fiery speech.
Since this bill did not pass, the K-12 funding will not change from the budget approved by the legislature in the 2020 budget session. However, I remain optimistic that during this interim period cooler heads will prevail, and the legislature will eventually find a workable solution to our school finance challenges.