CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Wyoming Representative Jerry Paxton, Chairman of the House Education Committee, and Representative Steve Harshman, Chairman of the House Revenue Committee released a press release on March 10, outlining the challenges Wyoming K-12 education funds face with a projected $300 million annual structural deficit.
Without legislative action, they say, “our schools will use $331 million of the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account (LSRA), the state’s “rainy day” fund, in next school year and the coming years.”
The state’s K-12 education funds are the School Foundation Program and the School Capital Construction Account. The shortfall is based on rapidly declining coal and natural gas production and prices, which are major contributors to the state revenue.
In Wyoming, property taxes are the fifth-lowest in the nation, because mineral revenue picks up 50% of the property taxes. With a decrease in minerals, the property taxes used to pay for schools are only providing half of the funding.
According to the release, Wyoming’s mineral severance tax and Federal Mineral Royalties have dropped to the lowest levels in decades. Wyoming has also lost over 200 million tons of coal production per year in the last few years, accounting for 50% of production.
The Representatives say these factors have created a “one-two punch making it difficult for the Legislature to fulfill our Constitutional duty to fund an “equitable” public education for Wyoming’s children. This is a double whammy, as our school funding is the most mineral-dependent service of our state government.”
The committee chairmen presented a solution in the release, “We propose reducing spending, shifting revenue streams and spending down our savings. We are confident that rebounding oil prices will support this approach. We also have proposed a contingent increase in the sales tax—“a penny for education.” This is the last resort and would only be instituted if the other three options can’t meet this challenge and our savings reach minimum balances.”
Other lawmakers have suggested that revenue bills are only premature fixes. According to the Associated Press, “There is no way in the state of Wyoming with 500,000 people that you could raise enough revenue,” Senate Majority Floor Leader Ogden Driskill, a Republican, told the Star-Tribune on Friday. “We’re not going to have another stream like coal. It needs to come from a foundation of cuts.”
According to the release, In FY 2021, General Fund appropriations were approximately $1.312 billion, compared to $1.534 billion for K-12 education. The education fund appropriations include operations only and do not include capital construction.
About The Author
Buckrail @ Lindsay
Lindsay Vallen is a Community News Reporter covering a little bit of everything; with an interest in politics, wildlife, and amplifying community voices. Originally from the east coast, Lindsay has called Wilson, Wyoming home since 2017. In her free time, she enjoys snowboarding, hiking, cooking, and completing the Jackson Hole Daily crosswords.
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