CHEYENNE — Wyoming Senate Appropriations Committee meeting participants told municipalities Jan. 19 they need to “share the pain” as the state’s budget declines, Wyoming County Commissioners Association Executive Director Jerimiah Rieman said.
But as Senate File 64 — a bill that could change the amount of direct distribution dollars allocated to the state’s cities, towns and counties — works its way through the Wyoming Legislature, the question remains: How much pain is too much?
During a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee Feb. 1, representatives effectively undid an amendment proposed by Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, Jan. 19. The House amendment sets $47.25 million for FY2022 direct distribution allocations, as first approved by the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee in December.
If the amendment holds, local municipality funding will increase from the Senate allocation of $42 million but still be $5.25 million less than the $52.5 million the state had previously budgeted pre-COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the House amendment, the Legislative Service Office predicts the city of Sheridan could see $195,286 less direct distribution funding than previously budgeted. Sheridan County could see a decrease of $131,040. Ranchester’s funding would decrease by $8,750 followed by Dayton with a $7,429 cut and Clearmont with a $1,621 cut.
Direct distribution for the county will decrease by 11.93% from what was previously budgeted while funding for the city will decrease by 11.24%, according to the Legislative Service Office. Ranchester will see a 7.73% decrease while Dayton will see a 7.33% decrease and Clearmont will see a 3.28% decrease.
Kinskey proposed his amendment as a way to align with 10% cuts made by Gov. Mark Gordon in other areas of the state’s budget.
“We’ve had cuts of that magnitude, if not more, on programs for the poor, for the disabled, for seniors, community colleges, the University of Wyoming,” Kinskey said. “Every government employee is taking a hit to their health insurance…Medicaid providers have all taken serious, serious cuts so this is not something I want to do, but it is something that I think we have to do.”
Representatives agreed with Kinskey that direct distribution allocations needed to be cut, but they balked at a change resulting in a 20% funding reduction by the end of the 2021-2022 biennium.
“It doesn’t make sense to double whammy these counties and cities in one year... It just forces them into a situation where they’re laying people off that they would normally have a budget for the following year,” Rep. Evan Simpson, R-Afton said. “I support this amendment. Let’s make it a straight 10% so it’s fair and even across the board.”
“I think you all have watched me over the years,” Rep Andy Schwartz, D-Jackson Hole, said. “I’m a softie when it comes to local governments. My inclination at this point is almost to kill the bill…But even in Zoom, I can look at your faces and see that would be a fruitless effort so I will support the bill as amended.”
Kinskey said Feb. 4 he wasn’t surprised by the House Committee’s vote and said it reflected the vote made in the Joint Appropriations Committee when the Senate voted to cut funding further while the House supported more limited funding cuts.
“That‘s the way it’s been during my time in the Legislature,” Kinskey said. “The Senate is a little more conservative and wants to reduce spending, while the House wants to keep spending at the current level. So the vote in the House committee is not surprising to me — it’s just the normal ebb and flow of legislation.”
Direct distribution dollars are allocated from the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account to local municipalities. They were first implemented in the 2007/2008 biennium as a way to offset the revenue lost when the state stopped taxing food, Sheridan County Administrative Director Renee Obermueller said. The amounts counties, cities and towns receive is based on a complex formula incorporating various factors, including population, assessed valuation and per capita sales and use tax collection.
Direct distribution dollars are used for a variety of purposes by local municipalities — from snow removal and police department funding in the city of Sheridan to capital improvement projects in Sheridan County.
In small towns like Dayton, Clearmont and Ranchester, direct distribution dollars make up an outsized chunk of their revenue streams. Clearmont Mayor Greg Rohrer estimates direct distribution dollars make up roughly 50% of his town’s revenue, while that number is close to 24% in Ranchester, according to Mayor Peter Clark.
"I do hope the state realizes how important it is,” Rohrer said. "There are a lot of small towns in Wyoming that depend on it."
The Kinskey-amended Senate File 64 has passed the Senate on three readings and the House Appropriations-amended version is awaiting first reading in the House. Once the bill passes the House, the Legislature will hold a conference committee to discuss the bill, Kinskey said. In the committee, members of both legislative bodies will discuss and reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.