Op-ed: The 67th General Session Positions Tomorrow’s Wyoming Leaders for SuccessBy Senate President Ogden Driskill and Speaker of House Albert Sommers
March 3, 2023
On March 3rd, the Wyoming Legislature gaveled out the end of the 67th General Session. The work your elected officials achieved was remarkable. As the leaders of the House and Senate chambers, it is our privilege to report out the accomplishments of this body’s work, which are strengthening the future of Wyoming, starting with strong investments in education.
Educating Wyoming’s children is perhaps the single greatest investment our state can make. Public education is the crucible of democracy and the very foundation of our system of government. Providing the next generation of Wyoming leaders the resources and tools they need to lead in today’s world economy will pay dividends for our state now and in the future.
Wyoming has always placed a priority on providing a world class education and the results speak for themselves. According to the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results, also known as the nation’s report card, Wyoming students were among the top in the nation. The report demonstrates a trend of strong performance for Wyoming education.
Notably, for all 50 states, Wyoming is among those leading the pack in grade 4 reading and math. Wyoming students also outperformed the national average for grade 8 math. Grade 8 reading is even with the national average for public school students.
When our state has the money, we happily fully fund Wyoming’s education system. When we don’t have the money, we ask our education programs to tighten their belts just like all other state agencies. This year, we were fortunate to have the money.
And invest we did. Our spending in the budget bill is a judicious and strategic long-term approach for the benefit of the education system and school facilities. This funding will help make much-needed improvements to our schools, provide competitive salaries and benefits for our teachers, and better ensure our children are receiving a high-quality education that prepares them for success.
About half of the savings in the bill goes to K-12 savings in the Common School Permanent Land Fund and the Common School Reserve Account. The other half goes to general fund savings. More than half of the $380 million in policy funding fully finances Wyoming school construction and maintenance and the External Cost Adjustment to make up for inflation faced by school districts.
In the supplemental budget bill, the House and Senate invested a historic $1.4 billion in savings in total, a combination of permanent and long-term investments. These savings will benefit future generations and provide returns that will help tackle our state’s economic ups-and-downs. Because we know from experience that good times are usually followed by hard times.
This is important to us, because the Legislature has no greater responsibility than to set up future generations to tackle the challenges of tomorrow. We are proud of this record-setting savings and the fact that for every $1 that is spent on running our schools and funding local governments, more than $3.50 goes to savings. This budget plans for our most pressing needs, but also sets Wyoming on a path of continued prosperity and leadership.
The House and Senate were also committed to reducing tax burdens that are hurting our hardworking men and women. Wyoming is on the cusp of a property tax crisis. Rates have more than doubled in some parts of the state over recent years. Families are facing the unimaginable decision of having to sell their home just to pay the tax bill. Skyrocketing rates are making it more difficult for young families to own a home, forcing others to delay retirement, and driving up costs for renters.
This session the Legislature passed HB0099, which provides immediate property tax relief by opening up the eligibility process of an existing property tax program to more Wyoming residents. The bill counters rising home values due to inflation by broadening eligibility for tax refunds to more qualifying residents. The bill bumps up eligibility to 125 percent of median income and allows for a refund up to 75 percent of a residential property owner’s tax bill.
The House and Senate also passed Joint Resolution 3, which will go before Wyoming voters in the general election in 2024. The resolution authorizes the Legislature to create a subclass of owner-occupied primary residences. Creating this subclass is critical for the Legislature’s capability to bring bills in the future that could result in more meaningful property tax relief for Wyoming citizens. Governor Gordon signed this resolution into law on Friday, March 3.
Wyoming has long benefitted from far-sighted leaders that have prioritized our state’s long-term economic health and diversification. During this session, we strived to continue to build on that legacy, with the goal of positioning tomorrow’s leaders for success. This work is a continual process; it’s never fully done. Yet, this year the Legislature made good progress towards setting our state on a path of sustainable prosperity. And we look forward to continuing to work on behalf of the men and women of Wyoming to build solutions for the challenges of the future.
Ogden Driskill is the President of the Senate and has served in the Wyoming Legislature since 2011. Albert Sommers is the Speaker of the House and has served In the Legislature since 2013.