School funding measure collapses

CASPER – A bill that would have found slight cuts to Wyoming’s $300 million education funding shortfall died Wednesday after Senate leadership declined to continue negotiating with the House of Representatives. 

The two sides disagreed on a few points: where cuts should occur, how to spend federal money and whether to write in a conditional 0.5-percent sales tax if reserves fall below a certain point. 

A proposal to cut about $80 million over three years in mostly administrative costs while imposing a conditional sales tax made it through the House of Representatives. 

The Senate balked at the proposal, stripping the tax and changing how districts could spend on teacher salaries. 

Because the Senate changed the House bill, the discussion then went to a conference committee, where appointed members of each chamber attempted to negotiate a compromise. That committee met for several hours Wednesday, but Senate members declined to return to the table when it appeared no agreement could be met, Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, explained. 

Scott rebuked the House, calling members “tax-and-spend liberals,” who did not want to reign in government spending. 

In a message to school districts, Scott said “they better take that federal stimulus money ... and put it in reserves, because you’re going to need it,” he said. “We’re going to have a disaster” with the budget, he added. “The districts are going to need to have some reserves to live through that.” 

Without an agreement, education funding will remain unchanged, leaving no answer to a $300 million deficit in the state’s education budget. 

Lawmakers have been grappling with the state’s budget amid a decline in the energy sector that’s been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. State government has already weathered multiple rounds of budget cuts.