- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 24, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A western Wyoming lawmaker’s push for more clarity in the state budget process has resulted in the Legislature running a handful of separate spending bills this session, instead of the only one.

Rep. Garry Piiparinen, R-Evanston, voted against last year’s supplemental budget bill in protest over projects in it that weren’t “ordinary expenses for the state,” as the state Constitution requires.

In a column published in Wyoming newspapers last year, Piiparinen wrote that he found last year’s supplemental budget bill to be larded with pork projects. Piiparinen objected to the state spending $20 million for the proposed University of Wyoming High Altitude Performance Center and $2.6 million for irrigation improvements to UW’s Glenn “Red” Jacoby Golf Course, the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle reported last year.

“Those projects should have been vetted properly through the committee process and legislative hearings. Period,” he wrote.

Piiparinen lodged a complaint with the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office, but said the office responded that it wouldn’t give a legal opinion to a single lawmaker, only to an entire branch of the Legislature. A bill pending in this session would expand the AG’s duties to require the office to answer official legal questions for individual legislators.

In response to Piiparinen’s complaint, the Legislature’s Management Council, a group of senior lawmakers, decided to hear separate bills in this legislative session for such aspects of the state budget as local government funding and state capital construction that used to be included in the general government appropriations bill.

“I like the way it’s laid out here right now,” Piiparinen said Wednesday. “We’ve got five different budget bills, rather than the one where those footnotes could have been hidden anywhere and everywhere. I think it’s a plus in the right direction.”

Rep. Michael Greear, R-Worland, serves on the House Appropriations Committee, which has responsibility for hearing the new, separate spending bills. He said Wednesday he prefers the new system because it’s close to how he tracks his own business operations as an attorney.

“It’s really how I do my business: these are my expected revenues, and these are my budgeted expenses. And then we try to match that up,” Greear said. “So despite being this huge budget, the bottom line is it makes more sense.”

Sen. Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He said Wednesday that he’s heard some lawmakers complain this session that they preferred the old system of lumping the state spending into a single general appropriations bill.

House Minority Floor Leader Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne, said Wednesday on the House floor that she was having trouble tracking money that’s being transferred from one of the separate spending bills to another. She said over $160 million that the state’s receiving from the federal government to address reclamation of abandoned mine lands is being moved to the Department of Transportation, and then cropping up in another bill.

“I’d kind of like to know where all this stuff is, but I can’t really follow it with all these different bills,” Throne said. “And I think it’s important for the floor to understand that.”

Conference committees from the House and Senate started meeting Wednesday to hash out differences in their bodies’ respective versions of the general appropriations bill.

Both the House and the Senate have called for 1.5-percent reductions in state agency spending over the next two years. The Wyoming Department of Health is exempt from the cuts. Both also call for spending roughly $220 million out of the state’s $1.8-billion “rainy day fund.”

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