Members of the legislature’s Joint Appropriations committee say they are very concerned about how to pay for the construction and maintenance of new schools.
In the past, the state used the money coal companies paid for leases, but those funds are drying up. During a hearing on Mead’s proposed budget, House Appropriations Chairman Steve Harshman asked the governor if he had considered increasing taxes to make up that shortfall. Mead said he is not ready to support a tax increase because it would hurt the energy industry.
“I believe it’s the wrong time to do that, not that I don’t think that there is an issue to be dealt with. But I think that the greatest burden of any increase would be placed on the industries that are struggling now,” said Mead.
The governor agreed that they will need a long term solution, but initially he’d like the state to slow down school construction.
Laramie Representative Cathy Connolly said he essentially left the issue up to legislators to solve.
“Basically we have to do the hard work, he hasn’t done it yet at all. I think we need an education committee or a school finance committee to take good hard looks at our school spending.”
Senate President Phil Nicholas said he asked the Legislative Service Office to draft legislation to address overall funding of schools either through taxes, or by changing the constitution to allow for new ways for schools to be funded.
Meanwhile, some other legislators think Mead did not cut enough in his proposed budget. Senator Drew Perkins said more cuts are probably needed.
“At the end of the day there’s only so much money and I think we have to work on tightening our belt and making some cuts before you turn around and talk about expanding revenues.”
Committee members are holding budget hearings this month and next before crafting their version of the budget before the legislative session in February.