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Legislators Field Tough Questions at Legislative Luncheon

Sara Teter, Townsquare Media
Sara Teter, Townsquare Media

Budget cuts, revenue sources and education were among the issues discussed at the legislative luncheon Wednesday at the Holiday Inn in Laramie.

The luncheon, hosted by the Laramie Chamber Business Alliance, allowed Laramie community members to pose question to members of the Wyoming legislature.

Representative Charles Pelkey, Representative-elect Dan Furphy and Senator-elect Glenn Moniz answered questions and discussed the future of Wyoming education, possible revenue sources and budget cuts.

The legislators discussed education and agreed that although cuts to education are unavoidable, the legislation would work to mitigate the extent of the cuts.

“I believe that we should take a cautious, sensible approach to education cuts,” Pelkey said. “Education funding for K-12 as well as for UW is a priority and there is a huge [funding] shortfall with very few answers.”

Furphy pointed out that the coal bonus money that Wyoming had used in the past to fund schools is gone, and that the legislature will have to find the $700 million necessary to fund Wyoming schools at the biennium.

The legislators also discussed alternative sources of revenue for the state.

Moniz said one source the legislature had looked at was tolling Interstate 80.

“I was in the legislature when it first came up, and it didn’t pass. Most of the concern was at that time, and I think the concern still is, is all the retailers along I-80 are worried about losing their income,” Moniz said.

He said retailers had concerns that if I-80 was tolled, travelers would choose other routes,

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see it show up again as an individual bill,” Moniz said.

Furphy addressed questions about alternative sources of revenue, saying that the legislature should fund UW research into alternative uses for coal and push for Wyoming coal to be exported to Japan and China.

“Our coal has the lowest Sulphur content in the world. If we can convince China and Japan, who will be burning coal, that they need to use Wyoming coal, we can benefit the industry,” Furphy said.

Pelkey expressed concerns that cutting programs in certain areas would lead to more overall spending, particularly programs associated with alternative drug sentencing. Cutting those programs, he said, “would lead to spending more money on jail time.”

“We shouldn’t cut a dollar in one place and end up spending five dollars in another,” Pelkey said.

The 64th Legislature will convene the 2017 General Session Jan. 10 at noon.

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