Gordon signs dorms bill with several line-item vetoes

By Daniel Bendtsen

Laramie Boomerang

Via Wyoming News Exchange

LARAMIE — Gov. Mark Gordon made several line-item vetoes in House Bill 293, which promises to spur more than $300 million of new dormitories on the University of Wyoming campus.

However, the bulk of the legislation remains intact as Gordon signed the bill into law Friday morning.

He did offer some criticisms concerning the planning process for new dorms, and noted in a Friday letter that he’s “received a number of emails and letters urging me to veto this bill.”

“In this case and at this time, while the infusion of money to improve the student housing situation is warranted, in the future there must be better planning,” Gordon said in his letter to House Speaker Steve Harshman, R-Casper. “This issue has been simmering for some time and I believe the University can and must do a better job of preparing for alternative approaches to keeping the University competitive. We cannot continue to deplete the state’s fund and compromise their investment potentials as though they were never ending. Our state funds are finite.”

In 2018, legislators and UW representatives had considered pursuing the construction via a public-private partnership, which would not have tied up state funds. However, those state leaders ultimately determined private construction — like the kind that created Bison Run Village — would lead to inferior quality and higher costs to students paying room-and-board.

One of the governor’s vetoes merely fixed a drafting error in the final version of the bill.

To allow UW to conjure enough capital to start construction of the new dorms — which are planned to house 2,000 students — the bill establishes an account that allows for $15 million in loans for UW to start construction and $34 million for the university to defease existing bond debt.

However, a separate section of the bill erroneously allowed only $15 million to be expended from that account. Gordon’s veto of that limitation allows UW to use all $49 million of the appropriation in the account.

Gordon also vetoed certain changes made to the task force that’s overseeing the new construction.

In 2018, the Legislature established a task force to plan financing for the construction, with membership including four legislators, two executive branch representatives, two members of UW’s board of trustees, a representative of Laramie’s real estate community, a UW Foundation representative and one other UW representative appointed by President Laurie Nichols.

The version of the bill passed by the Legislature would have eliminated from the task force one legislator, the two executive branch representatives, the real estate representative and the UW Foundation representative; the Legislature-approved bill would have added another Nichols-appointed UW representative, Laramie Mayor Joe Shumway, and a “member representing the Laramie community appointed by the mayor.”

However, Gordon’s line-item veto adjusts the membership to ensure he still has his own representative on the task force while keeping four legislators on board to “preserve the continuity of the existing task force.”

While Gordon was state treasurer, Wyoming chief investment officer Patrick Fleming served as the treasurer’s representative. Fleming has been credited with crafting much of the financing mechanisms included in the bill, including the plan to defease at least $30 million of UW’s existing bond debt.

New Treasurer Curt Meier will not have a representative on the revised task force after Gordon opted to go along with the Legislature’s decision to cut a representative for the treasurer’s office.

Gordon also vetoed the addition of a member “representing the Laramie community,” which he said would maintain “the efficiency and workable size of the committee.”

As signed into law, Laramie will only have one representative on the task force: Shumway or another Laramie City Council member.

Gordon is allowed to make changes to the bill because the Wyoming Constitution states “the governor shall have power to disapprove of any item or items or part or parts of any bill making appropriations of money or property embracing distinct items.”

Historically, legislators had assumed that means the governor can only veto “items” or “parts” of a bill that make an appropriation.

In 1997, however, then-Gov. Jim Geringer vetoed line-items — ones that didn’t make appropriations — in a school finance reform bill. That led to a court battle between the Legislature’s Management Council and Geringer, ending in a 1998 decision from the Wyoming Supreme Court that interpreted the Constitution’s syntax in favor of Geringer.

The state’s high court determined that, in the section of the Constitution allowing line-item vetoes, the phrase “making appropriations” modifies the word “bill,” not “items” and “parts.”

That interpretation means Gordon can veto any part of a bill, so long as the bill makes at least one appropriation.