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Budget bill breakdown: Wyoming lawmakers spar over fiscal disagreements

Outside the Wyoming State Capitol extension building on March 5, 2024.
Chris Clements
Wyoming Public Radio
Outside the Wyoming State Capitol extension building on March 5, 2024.

House and Senate negotiators working on the joint state budget bill hit a brick wall after differences between the chambers’ two versions proved at odds.

Lawmakers had until Monday at midnight to come to an agreement on the budget and potentially reverse any of the governor’s line-item vetoes.

However, the two chambers’ budget bills were $1.1 billion apart. House negotiators declared an impasse and walked out.

Senate President Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) then moved to start negotiations over with what’s known as a “free committee.” It’s made up of new appointees who aren’t as constrained as the previous iteration in terms of settling differences between the two budgets.

In a free committee, appointees can add or remove any amendments made to the budget in an effort to get the job done promptly.

Lawmakers still have three extra days leftover from the last session to use if need be, but some expressed skepticism that the work could be done in time.

“If we go three more days, I can assure you we’ll go another three days,” said Driskill. “And if that fails, folks, you’re virtually assured that we all get to come back down here later in the season.”

Also on Monday night, the Senate voted down a motion from Majority Floor Leader Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) to halt Driskill’s creation of a free committee. Hicks and others on the Senate side of the first Joint Conference Committee said the breakdown was the result of House negotiators, not the other way around.

“There wasn’t an offer,” said Hicks. “They said, ‘Senate recede on this position, Senate recede on this position. You just recede, we’re not going to do that.’”

Ultimately, Hicks’ motion didn’t pass, and Driskill said he expected the new joint committee appointees to have an offer for the House the next day.

On Tuesday evening, the new Joint Conference Committee settled on a budget agreement that will reach the floor of each chamber this week for presentation.

This reporting was made possible by a grant from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, supporting state government coverage in the state. Wyoming Public Media and Jackson Hole Community Radio are partnering to cover state issues both on air and online.

Chris Clements is a state government reporter and digital media specialist for Wyoming Public Media based in Laramie. He came to WPM from KSJD Radio in Cortez, Colorado, where he reported on Indigenous affairs, drought, and local politics in the Four Corners region. Before that, he graduated with a degree in English (Creative Writing) from Arizona State University. Chris's news stories have been featured on KUNC, NPR newscasts, and National Native News, among others.
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