wyoming legislature

The Wyoming Legislature's Joint Education committee is drafting two pieces of legislation that could significantly reduce the amount of money that school districts get through the school funding model.  

One would raise the class sizes in the funding model, which would lead to the reduction of millions of dollars that currently flow to school districts. Sweetwater County School District two is based in Green River. 

Shelley Simonton

With the economic downturn, sales tax income has plummeted and local government finds itself in a world of financial hurt. Hiring freezes, layoffs, decisions not to move forward with road repairs, and the reduction of other services have either been approved or contemplated across the state.

Recently the Wyoming Association of Municipalities, or WAM, urged the legislature’s revenue committee to consider ways to allow communities to generate more revenue. Bob Beck asked WAM Executive Director Shelley Simonton how dire the situation is.

After some losses in Tuesday’s election, the Wyoming State Legislature’s Democratic count is down from 13 to 12. However, there were a couple of victories over Republican incumbents, like Debbie Bovee’s defeat of Gerald Gay in Casper.

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It was a good election night for the Republican Party, not just nationally, but in Wyoming as well. The party added a seat in both the state house and senate and elected Liz Cheney to replace Cynthia Lummis in the U.S. House. GOP party chairman Matt Micheli said they also added new faces and a bit more diversity.

“Affie Ellis and Tara Nethercott are two new people coming to the state senate, but I think both are going to be outstanding legislators and leaders of this state.”

Wyoming State Legislature

There will be fewer women serving in Wyoming's legislature after Tuesday's election. A large number of women ran for seats in the state house and senate, 37 total. But only 10 won their races.

Currently, Wyoming has the lowest representation of women in its legislature in the country, with just 12 women currently in office.

Cathy Connolly, the House District 13 representative, said she is at a loss for why the state ended up losing female representatives.

Bouchard

Republican Anthony Bouchard beat Independent Kym Zwonitzer in the race for Senate District 6 by about 300 votes. The seat represents rural Laramie and Goshen Counties.

Zwonitzer entered the race after her husband David lost in the Republican primary. Bouchard leads a gun rights organization and calls himself a fiscal conservative.  He says the state must reduce its spending.   

“I think the biggest problem that we have had since the time that I have been watching the legislature very closely, is that it’s just been a spending spree,” said Bouchard. 

Melodie Edwards

  

Look around Lynette St. Clair's Shoshone language and culture classroom at Wyoming Indian Middle School, and you’ll see this isn’t the usual Wyoming social studies class. There’s vintage photos of famous Shoshone people, a miniature tepee, and the white board is scribbled with Shoshone words and translations. And what the kids are learning is unusual too. The students are reading a speech by Shoshone chief Washakie from the 19th century. St. Clair teaches them key words from the speech in Shoshone.

American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming has named Sabrina King as its new Policy Director in hopes of increasing its presence in Wyoming, after financial pressures forced the organization to shrink about a year and a half ago.  

Caroline Ballard

On a hot and sunny July day Julie McCallister readied herself for a day of campaigning at Saratoga Days, decked out in her “Elect Julie McCallister” polo.

McCallister was running for the Wyoming State House seat in House District 47.

In the art show at the Platte Valley Community Center, McCallister approached potential voters, chatting about everything from the art to why she is qualified to serve.

Bob Beck

Earlier this year the Wyoming legislature cut $36 million from money they provide to school districts. Since that time districts have been trying to get that money back and convince lawmakers that additional cuts would hurt their ability to adequately teach students.  

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

After hearing more than five hours of public testimony, the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee rejected a bill Thursday that would have increased the tax on wind energy production.

Wyoming currently taxes production at $1 per megawatt hour, the only such tax in the nation. The state is facing a major budget shortfall because of the downturn in coal, oil and gas production. Raising the wind tax came up as a possible way to generate revenue for school construction. Rep. Mike Madden, R-Buffalo, introduced the failed proposal to raise the tax to $3 per megawatt hour.

Wyoming’s tobacco tax will remain among the lowest in the nation—at least for now. The Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee overwhelmingly rejected a bill Thursday that would have raised the cigarette tax from 60 cents to 90 cents.

 

Committee co-chair Representative Mike Madden says the proposed increase would have allowed Wyoming’s tax to keep up with inflation. The last cigarette tax increase was in 2003.

 

Wyoming Legislative Service Office

Tuesday night long time Sheridan County State Representative Rosie Berger not only lost her bid for re-election, but also her chance to be the Speaker of the House. 

Berger was defeated in the Republican primary by Bo Biteman, who painted her as anti-gun and was critical of her support of the state capital renovation project. The loss was shocking to Cheyenne Representative Dan Zwonitzer.

Four state residents are calling for an ethics investigation of State Senator Eli Bebout saying that his support of the Abandoned Mine Lands bill improperly benefited a company that he partially owns. 

The company called Nucor received AML funding as a result of the legislation, but the bill did not pay Bebout directly and for that reason the Senate rules committee allowed him to vote on the legislation. Senate Minority leader Chris Rothfuss is a member of the rules committee and said Bebout’s vote was proper.

Bob Beck, Wyoming Public Radio

Wyoming’s Title 25 program is $13 million dollars over budget and a group of legislators and others were told this week that reforms and policy changes are needed to slow down that spending. 

Title 25 covers court ordered hospitalizations for mental health and substance abuse patients. The state hospital doesn’t have enough beds to house those who need services, so the state has to pay private providers for that care. Natrona, Fremont, and Sweetwater County are driving the costs.  

Bob Beck, Wyoming Public Radio

Due to declining revenues the Wyoming Department of Health has been told to cut $90 million from its budget, that’s a nine percent reduction, the largest cut faced by any state agency. It will impact the two year budget that begins July first.

Director Tom Forslund said the loss of state funds also means the Department will lose an additional $43 million in federal matching money. Had the legislature voted to expand Medicaid it would have softened the blow, especially since the Department could shift some money from its budget to pay upfront costs. 

Bob Beck

Due to declining state revenues, Governor Matt Mead announced that he is cutting the state budget by $248 million.

The Wyoming Department of Health is being asked to cut its budget by $90 million for the next two years, which Mead said will lead to a loss of 677 private sector jobs. The University of Wyoming will cut $35 million, community colleges $20 million and the Department of Corrections $17 million. Mead told the Joint Appropriations Committee Tuesday that he had no choice.

Bob Beck

Getting people to run for the legislature can be a challenge, but this year Wyoming has had no problem attracting candidates. In 2014 Democrats made a strong push to get more people to run and they came up with 32 candidates. This year the number is 64. Even Republicans have more candidates running than two years ago. Jason Swadley of Ballotpedia studies elections.

“In all of the areas where we look at competitiveness, this year Wyoming is actually much more competitive than the U.S. average.”

Wyoming State Legislature

It’s up to a legislative task force to decide how Wyoming should deal with structural issues at the state penitentiary building in Rawlins. They can either make repairs or construct an entirely new building.

The 13-member task force includes five senators. Senator Stephen Pappas, an architect from Cheyenne, is among five other senators on the task force.  

WYOMING PUBLIC MEDIA

Welcome to a special edition of Open Spaces from Wyoming Public Radio News. We bring you a conversation about Women in the Wyoming Legislature…and why there are so few of them. This panel was recorded live earlier this year at the Leap Into Leadership conference, in conjunction with Leadership Wyoming Class of 2016. We’ll hear about some of the barriers that women face when they want to run for office.

We’ll discuss why it’s important to have women in the legislature, and how we can better encourage women to run for office. 

Wyoming State Legislature

What Wyoming issue would you like to hear legislative candidates address this year?  

WPM/NPR Community Discussion Rules

By contributing your comment, you consent to the possibility of having it read on the air. 

Budget Cuts Before Taxes

May 23, 2016
Bob Beck

  

Wyoming’s revenue picture is dire. Thanks to declining energy and sales tax revenue Governor Mead has already started cutting nearly 300 million dollars from the two-year budget that was approved by the legislature in March.

Bob Beck of Wyoming Public Radio

To save money, the Wyoming legislature may meet only 37 out of 40 possible days next year and will make other reductions in travel, staffing, and purchases.  

Due to a downturn in expected revenues, the legislature’s management council voted to reduce the legislature’s upcoming two-year budget by 12 percent. The governor is working with all state agencies and the University of Wyoming to reduce their budgets by an average of eight percent. 

Speaker of the House Kermit Brown said the upcoming session may be difficult and lawmakers may need all 40 days. 

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The legislature’s joint revenue committee wrapped up two days of discussions on possible tax increases to deal with Wyoming’s declining revenue picture. 

The committee looked at everything from increasing property taxes to pay for an education shortfall to letting communities add a sales tax on food. But at the end of the two days, the committee only agreed to draft two bills, both dealing with increasing the wind tax.

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

A Wyoming legislative committee is looking into ways to help cities, towns, and counties raise more money, but a localized food tax failed to gain support Thursday.

State Senator Ogden Driskill of Devils Tower said the state will likely not be able to keep providing money for local government at the rate it has in the past. Lawmakers approved 105 million dollars for local entities for the next two years, a decrease of 78 million from the previous two years. 

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

A Wyoming legislative committee is moving forward with proposals to increase the tax on wind energy. Wyoming is currently the only state that taxes wind energy production. The Revenue Committee decided at its meeting on Wednesday to draft two possible bills. One would raise the production tax on wind beyond the current one dollar per megawatt hour. The other would force wind companies to hand over some part of the federal wind energy production tax credit to the state.

Leigh Paterson

As Wyoming faces a growing budget shortfall, the state is looking at ways to generate additional revenue, including possibly raising the state's wind tax. The Joint Revenue Committee will consider a proposed tax hike at its meeting this week.

Bob Beck

The Wyoming legislative session has come to an end and few seem to be leaving Cheyenne feeling satisfied.

One of the few people leaving with a positive feeling is Casper Representative Tim Stubson. Stubson was heavily involved in crafting the state budget and voted against such things as Medicaid expansion and voted for a number of budget cuts.  But he says when you look at the state’s finances those cuts were needed.

Campbell County School District

The 2016 Legislative budget session wraps up this week. One of the big things lawmakers have been discussing over the past month is funding for Wyoming’s K-12 schools. The House and Senate have agreed to a budget that will cut about $36 million dollars from education in the next two school years.

Caroline Ballard

  

Across the United States, women make up just under a quarter of state legislators. In Wyoming, the statistics are even worse – only 13 percent of legislators are women. That makes the “Equality State” 50th in the nation. Part of the problem is no one is asking them to run. 

Bernadine Craft is a state senator from Sweetwater County, and she is the only woman in the state senate. She says that the main reason she is there is because she was asked to run by Senator Rae Lynn Job, who once held the senate seat Craft has now.

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