State Democratic legislative leaders preview upcoming budget session

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CASPER, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) - Wyoming state legislative Democratic Party leaders spoke to Natrona County Democrats Saturday about their priorities for the 2020 budget session, which starts Feb 10.

Wyoming House Minority Leader, Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Albany, speaks to Natrona County Democrats in Casper, Wyo. on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020.

House Minority Leader, Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Albany, and Senate Minority Leader, Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Albany, spoke about topics ranging from budget issues, to taxes, to blockchain and more.

They both agreed a top priority is education funding.

“I think it’s important that we keep competitive salaries for teachers. And in fact, where we used to have some of the best paid teachers in the nation, we’re now down to 12th, 15th,” Connolly said. “That’s still good but we want to be able to recruit and retain the best teachers in the state.”

Both Connelly and Rofthfuss are asking for an additional $38 million in external cost adjustments. Rothfus said it’s the bare minimum to meet constitutional requirements.

He said five years ago, the state funded more than what the education funding formula deemed necessary.

“We were robustly funding education and those extra funds make a big difference,” he said.

Another priority for Democrats is Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

The Joint Revenue Committee will sponsor a bill giving Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon the authority to negotiate Medicaid expansion terms with the federal government. If expanded, the federal dollars would pay for 90 percent of the increased Medicaid costs.

“This is money that would come into the state. For a small investment on the state’s part, we would get hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money back again,” Connolly said.

Rothfuss said it’s also important for economic diversification.

“There is nothing we could do in terms of economic development alone better for the State of Wyoming than to ensure that nine dollars come to the state for every dollar we spend,” he said. “From an economic development and diversification standpoint, if it didn’t do anything for health care, I would take the deal.”

He said expanding Medicaid would also increase access to care for around 20,000 Wyomingites.

A bill that would have expanded Medicaid and instituted work requirements failed in the House during the 2019 general session.