Appropriating public funds for the operation of state government is perhaps the single most important task facing Wyoming Legislators. The following provides a brief introduction to the state budget process including an explanation of the operations of the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group (CREG) and the Legislature's Joint Appropriations Committee (JAC).
The State of Wyoming operates on a biennial budget for all executive and judicial branch agencies, including the University, the community colleges, and for state funding for K-12 education. That is, budgets are built for two fiscal years of operations. The fiscal year begins on July 1 and ends on the following June 30. Budget requests are prepared by agency fiscal personnel in conjunction with the Budget Division of the Department of Administration and Information. The Budget Division is the central budget office for all state government and is often referred to as the "Governor's budget office".
The budget period for the Legislature itself is different in that it is tailored to coincide with the two calendar years for which each Legislature serves.
Standard and Exception/Expanded Budget Requests.
The biennial budget process begins during the summer months prior to a budget session of the Legislature. The Budget Division prepares a "standard" budget request for each agency and submits the standard budget to the agency in July. The standard budget is roughly equivalent to what the agency had received for the prior biennium with adjustments made for legislatively or executive approved transfers of funds into or out of an agency's budget.
The agency then may develop an "exception/expanded" budget request. An exception/expanded request asks for increased funding necessary to maintain current levels of service, to transfer funds and positions from one program within an agency to another, or for increased funding for expanding services to a new group of recipients or for expanding a new service to existing recipients. Not all agencies submit exception/expanded requests, the only required request is the standard. This request is for the upcoming two fiscal years or biennium which will begin on July 1 following the budget session.
Governor's Budget Recommendations.
The entire budget request from each agency is presented to the Budget Division in September or October. The Budget Division then assembles all of the agency requests into a total package for the Governor's review. (The budget requests for the Legislative and Judicial branches of state government are not submitted for the Governor's review and recommendation.)
The Consensus Revenue Estimating Group (CREG) (CREG is explained in detail elsewhere on this web site) meets in October and develops revenue forecasts for the upcoming biennium and the Governor compares the budget request to the forecasted revenue and works with the Budget Division to prepare his budget recommendations to the Legislature. These recommendations must be provided to the Legislature by December 1 of each year.
Supplemental Budget Requests.
In the event an agency believes it needs additional funding once the Legislature has approved a biennial budget, it prepares a supplemental budget request in the summer months prior to a general session of the Legislature. The process and time table is the same as that of a biennial budget request. The only difference is that there is no standard or exception/expanded requests in a supplemental budget request, only a request for funds in addition to what was approved in the budget session.
In the event an agency needs funds in addition to the biennial and supplemental appropriations to make it through a biennium, an "effective immediate" budget request is made. These requests come during budget session, but "effective immediate" appropriations are made in order for an agency to finish the current biennium, not for the upcoming biennium.
Budget Process - Joint Appropriations Committee
Once the Governor's budget recommendations are received, LSO budget/fiscal staff begin to analyze the request and compile "detailed reports" which help the JAC review agency requests; and "summary reports" of the total request and forecasted revenues to give the Committee an idea of the "big picture."
JAC Budget Hearings.
The Committee begins agency biennial budget hearings in December or early January prior to the budget session. The JAC meets periodically in blocks of 1 or 2 weeks until the budget session starts. During a general session, agency supplemental budget hearings are held during the session at JAC meetings.
The usual format for agency budget hearings are a lead-off presentation by the agency or department head on overall agency achievements, goals and requirements followed by a more detailed explanation of the agency's budget request. During this time the Committee asks questions but takes no formal action. It is simply an information exchange.
Once hearings for all agencies are completed, the Committee begins to "work" budgets. During this time the Committee works through each agency's budget, program by program, with individual Committee members making specific recommendations to either approve, deny or adjust an agency's funding request. The Committee discusses and votes on each recommendation. Whether there are recommended changes or not, the Committee votes on each program or sub-program budget request for each agency.
The entire budget hearing/budget working process takes 4 or 5 weeks and is completed at least one week before the budget session begins.
Preparation of Budget Bills.
Once the Committee has completed its work on the budgets, the LSO budget/fiscal staff prepares two identical general appropriations or budget bills for introduction. One bill is a Senate file, the other a House bill. Each bill consists of the JAC's recommendations as approved by vote of the Committee.
The co-chairmen assign different portions of each bill to different Committee members for explanation of the Committee's action on the floor of each house. While there are two identical bills started, only one bill which encompasses the action from both houses is dealt with by conference committee and is passed into law.