House and Senate conferees agree on pay raises

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Negotiating teams from the Wyoming House and Senate agreed on pay raises for state employees on Wednesday but postponed consideration of whether the state should study possible expansion of the state Medicaid program.

Teams from the House and Senate met at the State Capitol in Cheyenne Wednesday evening to resolve differences in their respective amendments to the budget bill. The roughly $3.3-billion general funds budget bill will guide state spending for the two-year period starting July 1.

The conference committee resolved all outstanding differences between House and Senate amendments to the budget bill except one. Members plan to meet again on Thursday morning whether to investigate possible expansion of the state Medicaid system.

On employee salaries, the conference committee agreed to give executive branch state employees pay raises of roughly 2.4 percent each year of the coming two-year funding cycle. The package would cost nearly $40 million.

The committee’s calculus for how to allocate just over $38 million in raises for the roughly 17,000 employees of the states’ K-12 school system was more complicated.

The committee adopted a proposal from Sen. Bebout, R-Riverton, that called for a 1-percent pay raise for K-12 employees for both years of the first year of the biennium. The proposal also called for giving schools more money earmarked directly for employee salaries.

The committee accepted the Senate position that that K-12 employees will have to start contributing to the cost of their retirement benefits in the second year of the coming biennium. Other state employees already make the contributions.

Bebout said that currently, different school districts around the state have different policies on retirement contributions. He said he and other senators believe strongly that school employees, in common with other state workers, “have some skin in the game,” in helping to pay for their retirement benefits.

Several hours into the meeting, the committee voted to postpone consideration of a House amendment that would call on the Wyoming Department of Health, the governor and the state insurance commissioner to negotiate with the federal government on how the state could possibly negotiate an expansion of the Medicaid program in the state.

Both houses of the Wyoming Legislature rejected proposals to accept a full Medicaid expansion.

The Legislature last year rejected $50 million in federal funds for the expansion and Gov. Matt Mead, in his state of the state address encouraged state lawmakers not to take the funds again this year.

Mead and other critics of Medicaid expansion have said they don’t trust federal promises to continue funding for the program.

Wyoming Democrats tried to muster public support for the expansion, saying it would extend health insurance to 17,600 low-income adults in the state. They also pointed to studies by the state health department that concluded it would save the state millions by reducing pressure on other health programs.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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