02-22-18 RMFU: Wyoming Legislature Considers School Building Projects, Water

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RMFU: Wyoming Legislature Considers School Building Projects, Water

By Scott Zimmerman, RMFU Wyoming Government Relations

The first week of the 2018 budget session of the Wyoming Legislature is complete.  Much of action this first week focused on introduction votes in both chambers. Individually-sponsored bills must receive a two-thirds majority favorable vote to be considered in the twenty-day session. All individually-sponsored bills had to receive their introduction by the fifth day of the session or they will not be considered this year.  What is newsworthy is what won’t be considered: no measures proposing tax or fee increases were introduced. In fact, bills proposing tax increases on alcohol and tobacco products were not even considered for introduction.  The states’ revenue picture is much brighter than this time last year, mostly due to interest earned on the state investment portfolio. That number came in about $165 million higher than expected.  The plan now is to present the required balanced budget for the fiscal years beginning in July 1, 2018 and ending on June 30, 2020 based on a combination of spending revisions, allocating monies from savings and reallocation and transfers of revenue streams.
Two proposed constitutional amendments dealing with school facility construction and education funding received the necessary two-thirds vote for introduction in the Senate.  These proposed amendments are in response to a series of Supreme Court rulings over the years that mandated the legislative body equalize funding statewide for facilities and basic education funding. Meeting these mandates was a bother but not a huge burden in better financial times; but in lean years it has become an increasing challenge. Many legislators believe these rulings are an overreach by the judicial branch.

SJR 3 School capital construction – constitutional amendment would transfer the burden of building schools to local school districts as opposed to the current system where the state builds all school facilities in a cookie-cutter approach. All new school facility building proposals would be placed before eligible voters within the district and the result of the bond election would be final.   The states only funding role would be to ensure that the local mill levy raises as much per person as it would if applied to the average per-person valuation of the state as a whole (effectively subsidizing poorer districts to ensure equal building opportunities that are available in richer districts.

SJR 4 Public school financing specifies that the Legislature has the authority (not the courts) to determine the amount of public school funding and requires the Legislature to take into consideration currently available revenues and funding requirements when funding the public schools; it further defines the roles of the Legislature and judiciary in the creation and review of the state’s school finance system.

There are many pieces of legislation concerning water issues introduced this week, they include:

HB 77 Instream flow consultant provides that consultant and other associated costs related to feasibility studies on instream flows shall be borne by the Game and Fish Commission. In the past these costs were shouldered by the Water Development Program.

HB 78 Omnibus water bill -construction authorizes and funds the construction portion of the Water Development program.

HB 53 Small water projects removes the cap on the maximum amount allowed for small water projects while leaving the maximum $35,000 financial contribution from the Commission is place.

HB 54 Water development project requirements proposes that prior to authorizing a water development project, the Commission shall require each project sponsor to demonstrate that the entity has the authority to adequately assess fees or collect funds to cover operation and maintenance expenses related to the project.

SF 55 Water development account III drops the size requirement for new construction from the current 2,000 to 50 acre-feet of water or expansion of a dam with a storage capacity of less than 1,000 to 50 acre-feet of water to be eligible for funding from the Water Development Account III (the large project account).

SF 62 Omnibus water bill-planning funds the feasibility and planning portion of the Water Development Program
SF 64 Appropriation to state engineer repeals the appropriation from Water Development Account I to fund the state engineer’s office made last session; increasing the appropriation from the general fund to replace this appropriation; providing for a transfer of funds back to Water Development Account I to make the corpus whole.

SF 73 Permits for small underground water wells changes the requirements that applications for wells that produce 25 gallons per minute or less shall not require a detailed description of proposed use; providing that those wells shall not require metering as specified.

Most of these bills have been heard in the Agricultural Committee in the chamber of introduction and are being debated on the floor.  The mirrored budget bills, HB 1 and SF 1 were introduced in their respective bodies Friday afternoon and this weeks’ action will focus on the budget.  Monday will bring a detailed explanation and Tuesday the amending efforts will commence.