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Fine tuning continues on budget before session

Jan 27, 2014 - The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- Members of the Legislature's Joint Appropriations Committee voted Friday to reduce possible extra state compensation for counties that stand to lose payments covering lost tax revenue from federal lands.

Congress has called for ending the federal Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program this year, a move that would cost Wyoming counties about $25 million.

The Appropriations Committee had voted Thursday to recommend $175 million for local government funding statewide. It called for taking $25 million of that amount to reimburse counties if the federal funding disappeared.

The committee backed up on Friday. It voted to restrict any possible reimbursement to only those counties that receive 5 percent or more of their revenues from the federal PILT program, which is run by the U.S. Interior Department. Officials said they didn't have figures immediately on how many counties that would be.

The full Wyoming Legislature will consider the committee's recommendations when it meets for a four-week session starting Feb. 10. The main job of the session is to craft a state budget for the two-year funding period that starts July 1.

House Appropriations Com-mittee Chairman Steve Harshman, R-Casper, suggested backing off on the idea of having the state make up for the federal shortfall in PILT funding.

"I don't think that's the proper message to send to the federal government: 'It's OK to cut PILT, and we're going to backfill it,' " he said.

Senate Appropriations Chair-man Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, said it's important for the state to recognize the importance of the federal payments to rural counties.

"There are some counties where it's 25 percent of their budget," Bebout said.

Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, suggested limiting state payments to only those counties that spend more than 5 percent of their revenues from PILT.

"It doesn't make sense to me that $2 million go up to Campbell County, if it's not a hardship for them," Nicholas said.

The committee on Friday also voted to accept a suggestion from Nicholas to increase pay raises for employees in the state's K-12 education system.

Gov. Matt Mead had recommended just under $50 million for raises for most state workers outside of the K-12 system. The budget that the committee approved on Friday would cut his proposal by $12 million, leaving enough for annual 2-percent raises for each year of the coming biennium plus $2 million for merit raises.

For employees of the state's K-12 school system, the committee on Friday voted to give employees a 1-percent increase for both years of the biennium. The increase wouldn't compound in the second year, so pay would remain the same over both years.

Harshman said the value of the K-12 raise the committee recommended is about the same as the $39 million that Mead requested.

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Legislature, Wyoming