An omnibus education bill passed the Wyoming House Tuesday and moved to the Senate for review.
The bill is the House of Representatives' answer to the $400 million education budget deficit. The bill proposes freezing transportation and special education funding for the 2018-2019 fiscal year to generate some savings.
Remaining gaps in funding would be covered by legislative reserves. And should the state’s rainy day account dip below $500 million, the state sales tax and the state use tax would increase a half penny.
The amendment proposing those potential tax increases was one of the more contentious points of debate, but was added to the bill by a 34 to 25 vote. The bill also includes a sunset provision that would remove the tax should the 43 education mills – a portion of taxes specifically set aside for education - begin to regenerate 65 percent of the necessary revenue to fund education.
House Education Chairman David Northrup used a gun safety analogy to describe the tax as a cautious approach to the future of education funding. “It’s just like when you go out shooting. What’s the first thing your dad told you? Be careful what you are shooting at. Be sure of your back stop.” And he added, “That’s what we’re saying here. Get a backstop.”
Another major aspect of the bill is creating a joint select committee to continue to study solutions to the education budget, as well as a recalibration of the funding model. The governor will also appoint three advisory groups to provide input and recommendations to the select committee.