Work on Wyoming's spending battles an 'intense' gig for LarsenJan 20, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer
As the Wyoming Legislature gears up to make more cuts this session, State Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, joins the House Appropriations Committee for the first time.
He's the only Fremont County delegate in the group, which is tasked with cutting another $50 million from the executive branch budget.
The work isn't easy: Larsen usually starts around 5 a.m. each day and finishes by 7 p.m.
He's used to working long days each session, but he said his work in previous years wasn't this "compressed and intense."
Before joining the appropriations committee, he spent the last four years serving on the Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee and the Labor, Health and Social Services Committee.
Understanding the impact
Whenever a proposed bill has a financial aspect, the appropriations committee meets with sponsors to understand the potential impact to the state budget.
The committee had hearings on six bills Monday and five more on Tuesday.
Over the next couple of weeks, Larsen's committee also will meet with many agency heads and determine where further cuts are appropriate.
"There may be some programs that are just not essential," he said. "It's not a comfortable position to be in, to make those decisions."
Larsen said his committee tries not to dictate specific cuts to agencies, and it has helped that state directors have been very prepared in meetings so far.
Among the most contested cuts on the line this year is the state's spending for K-12 funding.
Although the Joint Education Committee is leading the charge on K-12 funding proposals, the appropriations group still is highly involved.
Some have proposed that, like last year, schools should again be exempt from funding reductions. Despite the importance placed on education funding in the state, however, Larsen believes "there is certainly room for cuts."
"That's not something we should wait on for another year," Larsen said.
The Legislature has been appropriating K-12 funding based on 16-student class sizes. But more often than not, class sizes are larger than that, which indicates to Larsen that the state is actually over-spending relative to expected costs.
The JEC killed three bills at its Dec. 19 meeting which would have increased class sizes and moved the K-12 funding model to an "evidence-based" one proposed by consultants in 2015.
After killing the drafted bills, the JEC put forward a report that floated a broader range of proposals for consideration.
Larsen favored some of the proposals the JEC rejected -- especially increased class sizes -- and thinks some are likely to be revived.
"It's just wise that we step back, but the components of those bills might not go away," he said.
Larsen said he also believes the Legislature will need to spend a considerable amount of time this session understanding how to handle Medicaid under President-elect Donald Trump's administration.
Both Trump and his nominee for the Health and Human Services Secretary, Tom Price, have backed U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan's proposal to distribute Medicaid to states as block grants, and Larsen said that plan could be instituted this year.
Larsen called the plan "a good approach" but said it will create a lot of work for the appropriations committee, the Labor, Health and Social Services Committee, and the Department of Health Advisory Council - of which Larsen also is a member: If Trump and Congress decide to move forward with the proposal, states would be responsible for planning how to handle Medicaid funds that are given in a lump sum.
"If all Medicaid dollars come in block grants, we've really got to have a plan," Larsen said. "We've got to get a foundation laid for how we'll ask the Department of Health to move forward."
The new issue would be vastly different from the one the Legislature debated last year, when Gov. Matt Mead backed a Medicaid expansion which had been incentivized by the Affordable Care Act.
Before Trump's unexpected presidential victory, state legislators had been expected to debate the move again this year.
The decision would have brought in $268 million in federal funds over a biennium and covered 20,000 more people.