Legislative look back

While the Wyoming Legislature's 2024 Budget Session officially ended several weeks ago, a series of vetoes from Governor Mark Gordon prompted discussion of a special session. The special session was voted against, however, leaving the legislature finished for now. Overall, many Sweetwater County representatives and local government leaders expressed positive opinions about how this year's legislative session wrapped up.

Governor's vetoes

While Governor Gordon signed many of the bills presented by the legislature and let others pass into law without his signature, he also vetoed several bills when they came to his desk.

One of the most controversial decisions from the governor was his veto of SF0054 - Homeowner tax exemption. Gordon expressed his concern that the exemption was not targeted and jeopardized the financial stability of the state and counties, saying that it represented "a socialistic type of wealth transfer, mostly from the energy sector, to Wyoming homeowners." He added that the bill was "a temporary relief measure that could lead to budget shortfalls, and will ultimately be paid for by raising taxes on our children."

The governor also exercised his line-item veto authority on HB0004 - Property tax refund program, removing the highest income category from the program, explaining in his letter that he believed the $20 million appropriated by the Legislature would be insufficient to fund the program if that highest income category was included.

Other bills Governor Gordon vetoed included HB0125 - Repeal gun free zones and preemption amendments due to his concerns that the bill exceeds the separation of powers embodied in the Wyoming Constitution; HB0148 - Regulation of Abortions, since the governor believed amendments to the bill had "complicated its purpose, making it vulnerable to legal challenges"; SF0013 - Federal land use plans - legal actions authorized, which the governor said was unconstitutional and not fiscally conservative; SF0103 - Wyoming PRIME Act, a "trigger bill" he believed could create confusion; and SF0044 - Limited mining operations-amendments, which he believed had constitutional consequences as to how state lands are managed to help fund schools.

Special session shut down

In response to the governor's vetoes, some members of the legislature, particularly the Wyoming Freedom Caucus, asked for a special session of the legislature to convene. Several members of the legislature spoke in favor of a special session to address the vetoes, while others spoke out against it.

On March 31, the legislature tallied the ballots received in a poll over whether to have a special section. In the Senate, there were 16 "Aye" votes and 15 "No" votes. In the House, there were 27 "Aye" votes" and 35 "No" votes.

According to Article 3, Section 7 of the Wyoming Constitution, a majority of members elected to both houses must vote for a special session, so the special section did not pass.

Sweetwater County's response

Several representatives and local officials from Sweetwater County have shared their approval and optimism over the results of the 2024 Budget Session.

"The budget turned out pretty well for Sweetwater County," Rep. Clark Stith told the Sweetwater County Board of County Commissioners during their April 2 meeting.

Stith pointed out that an additional $1 million was set aside to support local governments if they have disputes with the federal government, raising the total to $2 million, the intent of which was to help Sweetwater County respond to the Bureau of Land Management's Resource Management Plan draft for the Rock Springs Field Office. Stith also noted that $6 million was earmarked for the Joint Powers Water Board in Green River to assist with a backup water pump, since right now there's a single point of failure for all of Green River and Rock Springs, so if that one pump fails everyone will be out of water.

"We made some progress on property tax relief and reform," Stith added.

Green River's response

The City of Green River also shared a recent press release explaining some of the impacts the legislative session will have on the community.

As property tax reform was one of the top priorities of the session, the bills that were passed will have some local impact.

"While Sweetwater County has not experienced property tax increases at levels seen in other parts of the state, the bills that have been signed into law will provide varying levels of property tax reductions for some homeowners in Green River," the city press release said. "For the city, property tax revenues provide approximately 5% to 7% of the general fund budget used to provide city services, with sales and use tax revenues making up the largest single source of annual revenue. With this lower percentage and the backfilling provisions included in a few of the bills that have been signed into law, the City of Green River does not anticipate major revenue reductions resulting from this session's property tax legislation."

Some of the bills that were passed during the 2024 session impact revenue for local county and municipality governments, including the Direct Distribution Bill and SF0090 - State-Managed Local Government Equity Investment Pool. This year's Direct Distribution Bill provided $146.25 million to be distributed based on a formula to all counties and municipalities in Wyoming over the two-year biennium, which will result in a total payment of approximately $1,139,072 to the city of Green River each year for the next two fiscal years, or about 7% to 8% of the general fund budget.

The city also pointed out that becoming more engaged in the legislative process and working with partners at all levels has been an ongoing goal. As part of this goal, in 2020 the city created a Government Affairs and Grants Manager and Communications Administrator position to increase communication.

"As a city we are seeing the benefits of greater communication and collaboration at all levels," Mayor Pete Rust said. "We would like to thank our local legislators for all of their work during the recently completed session and express our gratitude to those legislators who took the time to stay in communication with us on relevant issues."

In addition to revenue discussions from the legislative session, the city noted that revenues from the specific purpose (sixth penny) tax are reaching new levels, which will allow construction to begin on some of the projects this summer.

"Through February 2024, the City has received just over $4 million in 6th penny revenues," the press release explained. "During the summer of 2024 the City hopes to complete reconstruction on Faith and Evans Streets at an estimated cost of $2.7 million, to be followed by reconstruction of portions of Riverview Drive which are expected to cost an estimated $2.9 million when completed. Sixth penny collections will also be used this summer for additional road maintenance and repair that include preventative treatments such as crack sealing, chip sealing, or slurry seal of existing roads. Current collections of 6th penny revenues are coming in faster than projected, positively impacting the amount of time needed to cover the cost of the approved projects."


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