CHEYENNE – The future of school finance remains in limbo more than a week after the Wyoming Legislature ended its tumultuous 2018 budget session.
Gov. Matt Mead has yet to decide whether he will exercise his veto authority or sign into law a bill that makes reductions to K-12 education in Wyoming. House Bill 140, which served as the vehicle for making further cuts to Wyoming schools, is the only outstanding piece of legislation from the session that ended March 15.
The bill would cut $27 million in K-12 education funding from the 2019-20 biennial budget.
Wyoming’s governor has a three-day window to return a vetoed bill to the Legislature when it is still in session. If the Legislature adjourns before that three-day period has expired, the governor then has 15 days to sign or veto a bill. After those 15 days, the bill will become law without the governor’s signature.
So if Mead vetoes HB 140, the Legislature does not have the option to override the veto. Legislators would have two options if they want to see the reductions take place in the coming two years:
- The House of Representatives and Senate could convene in a special session, which would require a simple majority of members in both chambers. Then they could pass legislation taking the same or similar action and send it to the governor. If Mead vetoes it, they would have the option to override.
- The Legislature could pass legislation in the 2019 general session and give itself enough time to override should the governor exercise his or her veto power.
If the Legislature took the latter course, there would be a new governor in power, since Mead’s second and final term expires before that session begins.
Knowing lawmakers would be hung up on matters relating to K-12 education reductions and state-funded construction projects, the Legislature decided to pass a general appropriations budget bill that funds most state agencies. Capital construction was carried in House Bill 194, which Mead signed into law Tuesday.
Unlike the general budget bill, which includes multiple appropriations where Mead can exercise his line-item veto authority, House Bill 140 doesn’t have multiple appropriations. Therefore, it appears Mead must veto the entire bill if he wants to block anything in the legislation from becoming law.
The governor is reviewing the bill to determine the appropriate course of action, Chris Mickey, Mead’s communications director, said Thursday. Whether Mead is leaning toward a veto, signing the bill or letting it become law without his signature, Mickey couldn’t say.
“I honestly don’t know,” Mickey said. “I don’t know what action he’ll take.”
Should Mead veto the bill, House Education Committee Chairman David Northrup, R-Powell, said he doesn’t expect the Legislature would convene a special session to pass new legislation. Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne – who sits on the House Education Committee – agreed.
“I don’t think you’re going to see the speaker or president come back to a special session only to address K-12 funding,” Brown said. “You’re never going to get the speaker to say, ‘I want to come cut K-12.’ I don’t think you’re going to see that.”
House Speaker Steve Harshman, R-Casper, is an educator and resisted the Senate’s proposal to make more than $100 million in cuts to K-12 funding over three years, deeming it a position for deal-making.
The $27 million reduction in House Bill 140 would be on top of $77 million in cuts made during the 2017 general session.
Wyoming school districts won’t start feeling the effects of those cuts until the beginning of the 2018-19 school year this fall.