Wyoming Legislature, ag groups prepare for 63rd sessionWritten by Saige Albert
Cheyenne – Feb. 8 marks the kickoff of the 63rd Wyoming Legislature’s 2016 Budget Session, and legislators and agriculture organizations alike are preparing for a budget-intense session.
“The 63rd Wyoming Legislature will convene in a Joint Session of the Wyoming Senate and House of Representatives on Feb. 8 at 10 a.m., during the first day of legislative proceedings of the 2016 Budget Session,” said Anthony Sara, Wyoming Legislative Services Office Legislative Information Officer. “At that time, Gov. Matt Mead will deliver his State of the State message to the Legislature, followed by the State of the Judiciary message, delivered by Wyoming Supreme Court Chief Justice E. James Burke.”
A live video stream of the event will be available at governor.wyo.gov or wyoleg.gov, and members of the public are invited to listen to the speech.
After the State of the State address, both bodies of the Wyoming Legislature will convene to discuss the budget for the 2017-18 biennium and a host of other bills filed by committees and individual legislators.
Wyoming’s agriculture organizations, including the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA), Wyoming Wool Growers Association (WWGA), Wyoming Farm Bureau (WyFB), Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) and the Wyoming Ag Business Association (WABA), all note that many legislators have indicated the session will be about the budget for the 2017-18 biennium.
“The Consensus Revenue Estimating Group (CREG) report revised revenue estimates down another roughly $35 million this biennium and $45-46 million for the next biennium,” WABA’s Keith Kennedy said, noting those estimates are based on crude oil at $40 per barrel and natural gas at $2.64. “Where are we going to get the money to make up these shortfalls?”
Kennedy, along with others, recognized that the work of the Wyoming Legislature this session will be particularly challenging.
WyFB’s Brett Moline added, “We realize that money will be tight in the next several years.”
Jim Magagna of WSGA said, “The highest priority for WSGA in the budget has been the authorization to spend brand inspection money for an increase in salaries for brand inspectors.”
Wyoming Livestock Board Director Steve True noted that the salary increase comes from earmarked funds within the WLSB budget and is not a new appropriation request from the general fund.
“The increases would be funded by fees that we collect. We are really looking for spending authority to increase those salaries,” True said. “I would like to thank the State of Wyoming's Administration and Information Division for putting our request through their system to determine the payroll increase.”
A&I utilizes a study that compares current salaries to similar jobs in surrounding states, and it found that Wyoming brand inspectors were paid 13 percent below those from other states.
“The Governor recommended that we increase salaries by that percentage, and the Joint Appropriations Committee also signed off on it,” True said. “The increase will be coming forward in the final budget package, and we will offer any additional information we can to legislators.”
Moline agreed that keeping the money in the brand inspection program continues to be important for WyFB members.
Other budget items
Kennedy explained that an additional budget item of concern for weed and pest interests is a proposal to eliminate $770,000 in funding for the State Loan and Investment Board’s noxious weed control program.
Outside of agriculture, Zimmerman noted that some controversy has been seen in funding to University of Wyoming athletics, and Magagna added that the amount of money spent on capital construction projects may also be a concern moving into the future.
WWGA’s Amy Hendrickson commented, “Budget years are always difficult, but especially in bad years, legislators have to make some particularly tough decisions.”
Kennedy said, “We are waiting with bated breath to see what the budget bill looks like.”
Pesticide safety education funding is one additional piece of legislation that many groups identified as being important for the ag community.
The funding bill would slightly increase the registration fee for pesticides and dedicate the resulting money to programs for training pesticide applicators.
WSGA and WyFB both passed resolutions supporting the bill, which is sponsored by the Joint Agriculture Committee, during their winter meetings.
For WWGA, cuts to grants that are provided to predator boards may be a big concern.
“We’ve heard that there is a five percent cut to grants coming across the board in the state, and predator board funding falls under grants,” said Hendrickson. “We will have to watch what happens there.”
WyFB members also passed policy to support a resolution that says if genetically modified organism (GMO) labeling is instituted, it should be done on a national level.
“The feeling is that if – and that is a big if – we need labeling on GMOs, it needs to be done on a national basis, rather than state by state.”
As another important bill, Magagna noted that House Bill 17, dealing with shed antlers, will be important for WSGA.
“This bill would create a separate misdemeanor for those trespassing on private lands to collect antlers,” he explained. “It would require payment of a fine, as well as forfeiture of the antlers.”
WyFB is concerned with House Bill 24, which would allow the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission to set license fees.
“We won’t support that bill,” said Moline. “We think it is the job of the Legislature – not a state agency – to set those fees. Right now there are also no sideboards on the bill to limit how big a change can be made in license fees, and as is, we won’t be able to support it.”
Another bill would amend a political split requirement for state boards and commissions from no more than 50 percent of either political party to no more than 75 percent.
“We really struggle at times to fill that split, especially on the Board of Agriculture where regional requirements are in place,” Magagna explained.
Moline noted that WyFB will be interested in the bill and will monitor its progress through the legislature.
“There are several other bills that we don’t have a formal position on,” Magagna commented, noting that WSGA will actively monitor the legislative session for new bills that are introduced. “There may be other bills that surface, but the legislature has indicated they will be focused on the budget this session.”
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