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Joint committee to meet to rectify over $1 billion difference in House, Senate budget bills

David Velazquez with the Casper Star-Tribune, via the Wyoming News Exchange

CASPER — A Joint Conference Committee will be brought together to bridge the $1.1 billion gap between the House of Representatives’ and Senate’s budget. 
The House of Representatives passed 70 amendments to the budget and the Senate passed 63 last week. The gap in the budget is due to the House spending roughly $362 million more once amendments were finalized while the Senate reduced the budget by $767 million. 
The impact to the general fund — the state’s main operating budget — saw the House spend $132 million while the Senate only spent $7 million. 
The committee composed of five members from each chamber will have to work through amendments that only passed in one chamber.
Both chambers passed 13 identical amendments. 
The amendments passed in both chambers would reduce $700,000 for a Wyoming float in the Rose Parade; provide $2.5 million to the University of Wyoming for research, education and extension in ranch and 11 rangeland management, agronomy and soil science; add $1.8 million for charter school leases in two counties; provide $75,000 for a Spanish-American War monument; allocate $850,000 for two state employees to represent counties; allocate $300,000 for agriculture in the classroom and $250,000 for trauma designation in education. 
Both chambers also appropriated money for border state law enforcement. 
An approved Senate amendment provides Texas with $2 million, while House amendments appropriates $2 million for reimbursements to Wyoming law enforcement agencies for expenses associated with lawful volunteer agreements to assist border state law enforcement efforts.
The committee will need to work out appropriation specifics and language with the amendment. 
One amendment passed in the Senate says that no funds at the University at Wyoming are to be used for gender studies, but students currently enrolled in that major will be allowed to complete their program. 
Another amendment in the Senate decreases $1.7 million from the university to eliminate the office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and it also prohibits the university from using any funds for any Diversity, Equity and Inclusion events or functions. 
Two similar amendments were proposed in the House, but those ultimately failed to gain support from half of the House legislators. 
Additional Senate amendments reduce one full time employee from the department of education; delete the $200 million Large School Capital Construction Holding Account; eliminate $20 million for Wyoming’s tomorrow scholarship endowment;  transfer $75 million designated for the University of Wyoming’s Center of Innovation for Flow Through Porous Media to the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account; delete the $3.4 million for State Employer Paid Employee Retiree contributions; delete $200 million for matching funds for energy projects; and remove 42 vacant positions as of July 1, 2024 from the executive branch to save $3.6 million annually. 
One Senate amendment would bring major changes to how the state pays for construction this year. 
“This one has a lot of wide ranging implications,” Legislative Service Office Program Evaluator Elizabeth Martineau said. “The simplest way to explain this one — is we are stopping SIPA for two years.” 
The Strategic Investments and Projects Account was created by the 2013 Legislature, and all of the projects funded through SIPA would be funded through the general fund.
This story was published on February 29, 2024. 

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