2018 Legislative Wrap-Up
By: Pete Obermueller, Executive Director
Settle in for the long legislative wrap-up:
The 64th Legislature adjourned sine die, to use the technical term only us political nerds know. (Sine die (adverb). Latin. Without fixing a day for future meeting or action). The 65th legislature will meet in general session beginning on January 8, 2019. More than likely that session will occur again in the Jonah Building as Capitol renovations are ongoing. Hopefully we will return to the Capitol in 2020.
First of all, a big thank you to WCCA President Rob Hendry for spending about 90% of the session down here in Cheyenne. Also a shout out to Commissioner Bill Novotny who was in town for a great many of the session days. Several other Commissioners made the trip for specific issues as well and to work the floor when necessary. Often being at the legislature for multiple days is really about hours of boredom punctuated by a few seconds of panic. But I think Rob will tell you that every session has its own story arc – one that can only be followed by being present for most of the session. Ducking in and out makes everything seem more disjointed. Being present, even without specific activity all of the time, is a meaningful thing. With this in mind, Rob and I discussed the possibility that next year we will plan for Commissioners to sign up for one, two or three days (or longer) rather than scheduling whole counties. Having between one and four Commissioners present daily is really the sweet spot for good coverage and a meaningful presence.
Now to the session. Given the daily updates I don’t think its helpful to recap all of what happened. Rather I want to update you on the final budget, the capital construction bill which contains an unexpected program for local governments, the education funding situation just for fun, and a couple pieces of signed legislation that will require your careful attention.
The legislature expended approximately $2.851 billion dollars for the general operations of state government for the FY19-20 biennium from their general fund. In addition to the budget bill, several other bills passed during the session that pulled an additional $55.6 million from the general fund. Among these bills that pull at least partially from the general fund are the state capital construction bill, the budget for the legislature itself, and some small start up money for the ENDOW related economic development bills.
The legislature also appropriated approximately $230 million from the LSRA (the rainy day account). $105 million of that was local government distributions. The remainder was for the bulk of the ENDOW bills, including $10 million for broadband deployment and $16 million for air service enhancement. It also included about $40 million for school capital construction, $10 million for the state penitentiary, and the remainder of the state capital construction spending.
In essence the legislature did reduce spending again, but not enough to balance the budget. The difference was made up by spending from savings accounts including the rainy day fund, but largely from other legislatively accessible savings accounts or diversions from appropriations to savings accounts. The fact is the state is spending through its available savings at an alarming rate.
Finally, the budget did maintain the footnotes we had earlier discussed. WyoLink user fees will continue to be paid from SLIB capital construction, and you will continue to receive bills. This practice is likely to be unsustainable into the future. Also, of the $350 million block grant to the University of Wyoming, the budget requires that they expend $534,000 to maintain 4-H educators' employee benefits for 2 years. Also, the bill includes money from the general fund for courthouse security upgrades for Converse, Carbon, Uinta, Lincoln, Hot Springs, Washakie and Sheridan counties.
State Capital Construction, School Funding, and Local Government Loans:
These two bills carried over to the very end as each one was being held hostage over the other during final negotiations between the House and Senate. I’ll spare you those details. Here’s the outcome. The legislature appropriated about $155 million for various projects, mostly at community colleges. However, less than 1/3 of that is from general fund or rainy day fund money. Most comes from private matching. In exchange for higher funding on these projects, the House approved an education funding bill that included about $20 million in cuts for schools.
The most surprising thing is that the State capital construction bill includes a $400 million low-interest loan program for cities, towns and counties backed by the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund. $200 million for infrastructure projects and $200 million for road projects. Every city, town and county is eligible for these loans that are capped at 1% interest, and can be up to $35 million annually up to an aggregate amount. This is a fantastic program to jump start or add additional dollars to a project you’ve had in mind.
In addition to the loan program mentioned above, there are two issues that require your attention. One immediately and one over the course of the coming the year. The immediate issue is a budget footnote that directs $8 million dollars in grants from the Department of Health to the counties for prevention services. Over that $8 million, $6 million is for substance abuse, and $2 million is for suicide prevention. The other, stand-alone bill that had requirements on how the money was to be distributed and spent did not pass, meaning that the budget footnote is all the legislative direction that exists. The WDH would like to begin awarding these grants as soon as possible to provide for a seamless operation of prevention services. They are currently working on what an application might look like, but we will have a conference call with your Health Committee (join if you are interested) to be sure that we have the flexibility to operate this program moving forward.
Second is the municipal jurisdiction bill you heard so much about. HB14 did ultimately pass, but it contains new requirements on counties regarding speedy communications with the municipalities, a potential look at your county’s comprehensive plan documents, and a system to ensure that plat applications meet certain criteria. I will write a more specific memo to distribute to Commissioners on potential options for counties moving forward, but you, your planning departments and likely your county attorney will need to carefully evaluate how to proceed. The bill does not become law until January of 2019, so there is time, but developing a new process may take that long.
Thank you all again for your quick engagement during the session. It was a very successful session for the WCCA.