CHEYENNE - A compromise reached in the final hours of the legislative session Friday cleared the way for lawmakers to approve an education finance bill containing spending cuts but no taxes.
Fixing an education funding shortfall on track to top $380 million a year was one of Gov. Matt Mead’s top hopes for the eight-week session. The bill, which would launch a potentially years-long process of addressing the shortfall, now heads to his desk.
The bill carries $34.5 million in education cuts. While not nearly enough to erase the shortfall before it sets in next year, the cuts accompany a plan to study and revamp education funding amid weak state revenue from coal, oil and natural gas extraction.
“It’s not a solution. But I think it’s another step,’’ House Speaker Steve Harshman, R-Casper, said in urging House approval of the bill. ``There’s going to be thousands of more steps.’’
The House voted 45-13 and the Senate 25-4 to approve the bill.
“We really, honestly, I think got our own way,’’ Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, told fellow senators.
With Mead’s approval, a special legislative committee and Mead appointees would get to work on the problem year-round.
The bill remained in limbo through most of the session’s last day.
The House voted 51-9 Friday morning not to agree to Senate changes to the measure. Those changes included stripping a half-cent state sales tax increase and reallocation of $84 million in mineral tax revenue toward K-12 education.
Both revenue measures originated in the House. The House vote against the bill sent it to a conference committee of three senators and three representatives, who worked out a compromise in a 15-minute meeting.
Throughout the session, the Senate opposed new and earmarked revenue when the state’s fiscal outlook. Emergency funding for education hasn’t run out and the state’s fiscal position could improve, they argued.
Senators meeting with representatives continued to oppose dedicating new revenue for education.
“I can just tell you we’re not going to budge,’’ Coe told his House counterparts on the conference committee.
The committee instead compromised on funding cuts for instructional facilitators _ education experts who coach teachers _ to get roughly midway between the $32.5 million in cuts proposed by the House and $37.5 million sought by the Senate.
Other cuts would freeze development of alternative schools and prohibit school districts from buying or leasing new school buses. The state also would tinker with how it calculates student enrollment for funding purposes.
More work on education funding will be needed next winter, Harshman said, when the Legislature meets for a four-week session to craft a two-year budget.
“Be ready,’’ he said. ``These are going to be tough decisions. But that’s what we all signed up for.’’For the complete article see the 03-08-2017 issue.
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