Wyoming faces school construction funding shortfall of as much as $205 million

Wyoming faces school construction funding shortfall of as much as $205 million

Loss of coal lease bonus payments will have to be offset by new revenue, legislators say.

A school construction funding shortfall in Wyoming could grow to more than $205 million by 2022, according to a legislative report.

The Casper Star-Tribune reports that the shortfall can be attributed to a reduction in coal lease bonus money.

More than $2 billion worth of construction and maintenance in Wyoming has been funded over the years through those bonuses, paid to the state from the federal government. About 100 schools were renovated or built during that time.

But the coal lease bonus money, which has put $2.7 billion in Wyoming coffers since 1980, has been dwindling: In 2013 and 2014, the school construction account received $433.4 million in coal lease bonus; in 2017 and 2018, it’s projected to be only $120.6 million. In the two years after that, the Legislative Service Office estimates, it will disappear altogether.

The situation means lawmakers will have to find new revenues. State Rep. David Northrup, chairman of the Education Committee, says a tax will have to be raised to pay for school construction.

The Legislative Service Office, in a memo to lawmakers outlining the anticipated shortfall, identified three potential taxes that would be “required” to offset the $205 million shortfall in 2021 and 2022: a 0.63 percent statewide sales and use tax increase, the entirety of which would go to school construction; a 1.07 percent severance tax increase on all minerals; and a 10-mill tax hike statewide.

Northrup says lawmakers need a plan to address the school funding situation before the next legislative session starts in February.

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