CHEYENNE — Gov. Matt Mead said this week that he and the Wyoming Legislature are not far apart on budget issues.
Wyoming lawmakers are winding up debate on the supplemental budget for fiscal-year 2014 today with a conference committee expected to iron out differences between the Senate and House next week.
The Republican governor said he hopes the Republican-dominated legislature will take another look at his proposal to divert a piece of the mineral tax stream that goes into the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund to a savings fund that can be accessed for spending. The PMTF is untouchable.
"When you put all the money into the permanent fund, you are taking it out of the Wyoming economy and putting it into someone else's economy," Mead said.
Mead added that money invested in money markets can be lost and along with that the opportunity to invest in roads and bridges.
"There is inherent value in infrastructure projects that regardless of market, regardless of these volatile times, we continue to build Wyoming," Mead said.
Currently 2.5 percent of severance taxes go into the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund (PMTF). Of that percentage, 1.5 percent are constitutionally directed and 1 percent are statutorily directed.
Mead proposed that the statutory 1 percent of the revenue go into an accessible account to use in tough fiscal times.
Mead said he saw more flexibility in flowing more of the money into emergency savings, but so far that outcome seems unlikely as both chambers debated the final reading of the budget Friday morning.
Mead said he had concerns about halving his $60 million request to fight wildfires as sought by the Legislature Joint Appropriations Committee.
Mead said the state needs to be prepared to face another record fire season like it faced last year.
On Friday lawmakers continued to work through the third reading of the budget and the Wyoming Department of Education continues to be a thorny issue.
The House added a budget amendment authorizing $150,000 to audit the Department of Education. Speaker of the House Rep. Tom Lubnau said that he has fielded allegations of misuse and mismanagement of the funds.
Lawmakers passed legislation that immediately removed the elected superintendent of public instruction as the director of the Department of Education.
Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill filed suit to have the law overturned and announced that she will run for governor against Mead in 2014.
Hill also requested that the legislature fund her newly defined role as superintendent at $6.2 million, including the cost of 15 employees for two years and an enhanced travel budget for teacher training. Mead recommended Hill manage a budget of $2.3 million. Lawmakers will settle that issue in the budget debate.
The House also amended the budget to allow an efficiency study in the Department of Transportation.
Meanwhile, the Senate Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee voted Thursday to recommend passage of House Bill 109, which allows the state Department of Agriculture to begin looking into potential sales of state-inspected meat and poultry to markets out of state.
For many years, Wyoming livestock producers have been at a market disadvantage because there is no U.S. Department of Agriculture inspected meat-packing plant in the state.
Statutory and regulatory changes made by USDA now allow states with qualifying state-level meat inspection programs to ship products across state lines from packing facilities with 25 or fewer employees.
The bill has already passed the House and must pass three readings in the Senate to go to the governor for his approval.
The Senate Agriculture Committee did kill the Food Freedom Act. The bill was an effort to deregulate the sale of homemade and homegrown foods between individuals, which the sponsor said would encourage local economic growth. Those who argued against the legislation, however, worried about the spread of illnesses.
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