The Wyoming Legislature’s budget session ends on closing day with unified budget

The budget now awaits a signature from Gov. Gordon, with funding for Teton County schools and the future of the Kelly Parcel hanging in the balance.
The Wyoming State Capitol building, where lawmakers came to a final decision on the state's two-year budget under the wire last week. (Georgus78/ CC by 2.0)

The Wyoming House and Senate passed a unified budget late last week, which now awaits a signature on the Governor’s desk.

The budget has wide implications for Jackson — with the future of Teton County schools and the Kelly Parcel both hanging in the balance. 

This comes after days of hot debate over where the state’s money should go. On the last scheduled day of the session, the House and Senate were able to come to an agreement over a $1.1 billion difference between their original budgets.

The evening before, Gov. Mark Gordon sent out a strongly worded letter to the President of the Senate Ogden Driskill (R-Devil’s Tower) denouncing that he has yet to see the budget.

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“That was the only constitutionally-mandated job this Legislature was required to do in the 2024 session. However, despite your efforts that duty is not yet fulfilled,” wrote Gordon. “To be blunt, the 67th Legislature had one job to do. It is not done yet.”

By the next afternoon, the House and Senate passed a final budget for two years. The House voted 41-21 in favor.

“I am proud of the work we did,” said Speaker of the House Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale). “This budget takes the long view, ensuring we meet community and state priorities while delivering on conservative, sound fiscal policy.”

It was a much closer vote in the Senate of 17-14.

“This is a hard-fought compromise,” said Driskill. “We want Wyoming to continue to be a place where families live, work and thrive — a Wyoming where industry is growing and creating jobs and those jobs are plentiful and high paying. We want communities that afford its residents the lowest cost of living possible.”

Funding for Jackson schools

The final budget restored more than $300 million for the construction of new schools — including in Jackson, where the student population has exploded in the past few years.

To make space for students at Jackson Hole High School, the administration stripped some hallways of their lockers. But that created a new problem: some students lack personal storage spaces.

The school district is also moving forward with creating the Bronc Achievement Center to alleviate crowding, and state money is needed to supplement local tax dollars for construction.

A school bus outside Jackson Middle School, down the street from the crowded high school. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

But some lawmakers didn’t see this funding as a major priority. In the process of coming up with a final budget, the Senate stripped school capital construction funding by over $100 million.

“What they yanked out and what they defeated on the floor on the Senate side, was any construction or planning for new schools for the next two years,” said Rep. Landon Brown (R-Cheyenne).

The Joint Conference Committee added the funding back to the budget last week to be later approved in both chambers.

The future of the Kelly Parcel

The budget also includes authorization to sell the Kelly Parcel to the federal government for no less than $100 million. 

This gives an almost final conclusion to a controversial land management issue in Teton County. The 640-acre plot sits right next to Grand Teton National Park, and state officials proposed putting it up for auction to the open market last fall. It sparked mass opposition from conservationists across the state who wanted to see it joined with the national park.

The view of the Tetons from the Kelly Parcel on a sunny November day. The land is surrounded by Grand Teton National Park, national forest and the elk refuge. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

The view of the Tetons from the Kelly Parcel on a sunny November day. The land is surrounded by Grand Teton National Park, national forest and the elk refuge. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

But in order for the Kelly Parcel to now be transferred to the federal government, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) must meet certain requirements related to the Rock Springs Resource Management Plan — another hot topic in the state. 

The budget requires the BLM plan does not include certain elements from the federal agency’s preferred option related to rights-of-way restrictions.

Other budget items

The final budget spends $209 million less than what the Governor proposed in November. It fully funds nursing homes, preschool for developmentally disabled children and Wyoming home services for senior centers.

It invests in mental health and funds energy projects. The Legislature has also allocated $253 million for property tax cuts and refunds, and includes funding for Gov. Gordon’s Energy Matching Funds program.

And as part of the Department of Health’s budget, the 988 suicide hotline trust fund will be funded about $10 million, reduced from the $40 million proposed at the beginning of the session.

It keeps funding for the University of Wyoming’s gender studies course and reduces money going to the university’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

This reporting was made possible by a grant from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, supporting state government coverage in the state. Wyoming Public Media and Jackson Hole Community Radio are partnering to cover state issues both on air and online.

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