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Dave Simpson: The ‘Children’ Who Oppose Higher Taxes

in Column/Dave Simpson
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By Dave Simpson, Cowboy State Daily columnist

Our local paper – I live east of Cheyenne – wrote this in an editorial Sunday:

“We hate to treat our elected leaders like children, but…”

Children? That’s not the half of it, as the legislature lumbers into the final days of the budget session, and the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the For God’s Sake Raise Taxes Crowd is at full wail/gnash.

It isn’t enough to simply propose a state income tax. No, proponents must insist that anyone who disagrees is a child, a hopeless case, a denier of reality. Oppose Medicaid expansion? How could anyone be so stupid and heartless, they ask, as to oppose free money from Washington?

A corporate income tax? Anyone who disagrees, they suggest, is greedy, oblivious, ignorant, hoodwinked by distant corporate interests.

The beating from the raise taxes contingent – particularly evident here in Cheyenne – is unrelenting, and reliably disparaging to our legislative majority. They’re “children,” as our local paper suggests.

Well, not so fast.

I moved a lot back when I was in the newspaper business. Three towns in Wyoming. One in Colorado. Two towns in Illinois. One in Nebraska.

(When I finally retired from the daily newspaper biz, we scurried back to Wyoming.)

The great thing about Illinois was the neat old houses that were available for not much money. In 1995, we bought a big old Victorian house that was great for raising kids, for $125,000. We worked like the dickens on it, before selling it six years later for $175,000.

When it came to taxes, however, Illinois was not a great deal. Every year we paid around $3,700 in property taxes. And we paid state income taxes – we both worked – of 3 percent.

Nebraska was just as bad, maybe worse. We bought a beautiful brick house, walking distance from the newspaper, right across the street from a city park, for $165,000. Beautiful lawn. Great garage. Big trees. Nice neighbors.

Once again, however, the property taxes were enough to make a grown man cry – around $3,600. The state income tax, graduated, was 6 percent.

I wrote an editorial about high taxes depressing housing values, and it was one of the rare times I got some real pushback from the movers and shakers in that town, especially the real estate people.

(I found Nebraskans to be incredibly patient with the high taxes, and chalked it up to the fact that average guy is too busy rooting for the Cornhuskers to care about taxes.)

So then, daily journalism darn near ran the wheels off me, and we finally moved back to Wyoming. It took a lot of work, three houses, and three basements that I finished myself, but we ended up in a nice house and some land (a “ranchette,” making me a ranchetter) that the county assessor says is worth well over $400,000.

And our property tax bill – GET THIS – is $2,700 a year.

That’s $1,000 less than on the $125,000 house in Illinois. Nine hundred less than the $165,000 house in Nebraska. And we pay no state income tax. We saved $10,000 the first year, and wondered why we hadn’t moved back to Wyoming far sooner.

And yet, according to our friends in the media, any lawmaker who doesn’t support higher taxes and Medicaid expansion is a “child.”  Lawmakers must be “brave” enough to raise taxes, according to most editorial pages. (Why are editors such fans of tax increases? Beats me.)

And, of course, the pressure to expand Medicaid is huge, with hospitals and health care groups banging the drum to accept free money from a federal government that is already $23 trillion in the red. “Free money?” From Washington? Now there’s a horse laugh.

Some among us are determined to give up a significant competitive advantage and make us just like Colorado, Nebraska, even Illinois, with their high taxes, spending, and taste for more free money from the federal government. And they call those who disagree “children.”

Folks like my wife and I appreciate common sense Wyoming lawmakers who are doggedly preserving a tax climate that is one more thing making this state so attractive.

We may be a voice in the wilderness, but they have our thanks.

Foster Friess Decides Against Senate Run

in Bill Sniffin/Column
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By Bill Sniffin, publisher Cowboy State Daily

Foster Friess has decided he can help the people of Wyoming more by not running for the U. S. Senate, he announced today.

He said: “After a listening tour to Cody, Gillette, Casper, and Cheyenne, and a Tele-Town Hall visit with 8,000 fellow Wyomingites, I believe my most significant opportunity to serve the people of Wyoming is by enlarging the efforts of Foster’s Outriders. A U.S. Senate run would alter our focus.”

The departure of Friess from the race opens the door for former U. S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis as she seeks the Republican nomination for the Senate race. Several other lesser known candidates from around the state have announced plans to run.

He announced the following initiatives going forward:

He said he wants to expand civics education and “are committing $100,000 cash awards to students who pass a private sector sponsored contest.”

He said: “After visiting Gillette College, we are increasing our efforts by helping young people to receive training in Welding, Diesel, Culinary Arts, and various other trades with the creation of the $250,000 Foster’s Outriders Scholarship for the Trades. Wyoming students who believe a four-year college isn’t the best path for them should be encouraged by this opportunity.

“We’re doubling our efforts so that every high school in Wyoming receives the lifesaving presentation from Rachel’s Challenge, a proven successful program to reduce bullying, drug abuse, suicides, and create a sense of connectedness in student bodies.

He also said: “Remaining focused on Wyoming does not diminish our ability to impact national legislation. For example, Foster’s Outriders was instrumental in the recent introduction of House Resolution 5916 and Senate Bill 3318 by Congressman Mike Gallagher and Louisiana U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, respectively. This bill will require all providers of healthcare products and services to the public to disclose cash prices on the internet and at the point of sale.

“All of the above efforts appeal to Wyomingites of every political persuasion. I hope each of you who provided so much encouragement to Lynn and me in the governor’s campaign and wanted me to run for the senate will intensify your efforts to get your friends and neighbors behind these and future Outrider efforts,” he concluded.

Friess said: “As outriders keep the cattle herd on the right trail, Foster’s Outriders helps keep the government on the right path. Encourage your friends to sign up at FosterFriess.com. These are unifying endeavors that will move Wyoming and America to a Philippians 4:8 land.”

Disclaimers: This site was founded by Annaliese Wiederspahn, daughter of Cynthia Lummis. Also: Foster Friess has been a major donor to this site.

Cat Urbigkit: State Will Hear From Public on Land Deal

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing
SONY DSC
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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist

Last week the Wyoming Legislature adopted revisions to two draft bills that allow state officials to move forward in pursuing a huge land purchase involving 1 million acres of surface and 4 million acres of mineral rights in the checkerboard of southern Wyoming. The properties at issue are the former Anadarko assets owned by Occidental Petroleum.

The major amendments to the bills now require some level of public comment, as well as an affirmative vote of the legislature before the deal could be finalized. There are still more questions about the proposal than answers, and state officials are providing few specifics. Changes have been made to the bills that require more specifics – but the details won’t be revealed until after the legislature gives the state’s top elected officials the go-ahead to conduct its due diligence on the possible land purchase.

Public Input

When it comes to public comment, provisions of the two bills differ in specifics. Senator Cale Case (R-Fremont) amended the Senate bill (Senate File 138) requiring that when state officials present their report and recommendations on moving forward with the land purchase to the legislature, the State Loan and Investment Board (SLIB) will immediately “make available to the public on its website the details of the purchase including the locations of the assets, the purchase price, the funding source for the purchase, the projected costs to manage the land and projected revenue streams from the assets purchased.”

Case’s amendment also requires SLIB to “establish an open public comment period to review the details of the proposed purchase, during which members of the public may submit written comments electronically, by mail or both.”

The bill also requires SLIB to hold at least one informational public hearing within a geographic area in Wyoming that would be affected by the proposed purchase, and that public testimony be taken at such a hearing.

The House bill (House Bill 249) only requires SLIB to hold at least “one public meeting in any county where the land to be purchased is located to gather input prior to the purchase.” This amendment was sponsored by Stan Blake (D-Sweetwater), John Freeman (D-Sweetwater), Albert Sommers (R-Sublette), and Clark Stith (R-Sweetwater).

Other Differences

The bills differ in substantive ways:

The Senate bill provides for two members of the house and two members of the senate to act as liaisons to SLB as it investigates the deal; the House version provides for three members from each chamber.

The Senate bill allows the state to take money from the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account (LSRA); the House bill deleted this provision and instead allows the state to issue special revenue bonds to fund the deal.

Both bills allow the state to dip into the permanent Wyoming mineral trust fund, the common school account, and other sources, to fund the deal. While the House bill allows the state to aggregate its money from these varied accounts to make the purchase, it also requires that each funding source used “shall acquire separate assets that are segregated from assets of the other funding sources used.”

The Senate bill was amended to allow SLIB to accept “federal grants and other contributions, grants, gifts, bequests and donations from any source” to complete the deal. State officials have been mum as to what kind of gift they may be negotiating, and what strings may be attached to such a gift.

Both bills would establish a payment in lieu of taxes program for counties affected by the loss of taxation if the deal is passed (since the land would convert from private property to government property).

Management

How the land would be managed is another issue. The Senate bill calls for the board of land commissioners to manage all surface and mineral interest purchased, with SLIB to manage the “other” assets “in accordance with its management of other state investments.”

The House bill provides for the state land board to manage all the “surface, subsurface and mineral interests,” while SLIB manages “other” purchased assets (neither bill states what those “other” assets are), and allows for the state to retain a manager for the properties, and that “all state laws governing the management of state lands shall be applicable.”

The House bill includes other specific provisions that the Senate bill lacks:

• No royalty payable to the state can be reduced from the rate in existence at the date of the deal; and

• No grazing lease or permit in existence when the deal is made can be modified in any manner without the consent of the lessee or permit holder.

Assets Outside Wyoming

The Senate bill allows the state board of land commissioners to determine whether it should sale any acquired properties that are located outside Wyoming and gives the board the authority to sell those assets. The House bill requires SLIB to report to the legislature whether any of the purchased property in other states “should be reviewed by the board of land commissioners for immediate or subsequent sale or exchange.”

What’s Next

Both bills have passed through their houses of origin and will now be considered by the other chamber. SF138 will be considered in the House, and HB249 will be considered in the Senate. You can follow the action here.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

Bill Sniffin: Tourism Sells State, Not Just To Visitors, But To Future Residents, Too

in Bill Sniffin/Column/Tourism
Tourism Conference
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By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily Publisher

During the course of my Wyoming business career, our companies have published and distributed over four million magazines promoting tourism in the Cowboy State.

My first magazine was started in 1970 called Big Mountain Country that sang the praises for Fremont County, home of the biggest mountains in the state.

Flash ahead 50 years, and I am attending the annual Wyoming Governor’s Tourism Conference in Cheyenne. Hundreds of members of the 30,000-plus people who work in the hospitality industry were there.

Over the years the tourism industry has faced many threats, the Yellowstone fires of 1988, come to mind. This year the Coronavirus will cut into Asian tourism. Up to now the threats to the state’s second largest industry have come from outside sources.

In a crazy twist, the biggest danger to the industry this year is coming from within – from some members of the Legislature. Because of tight money concerns, some outspoken elected folks think we are spending too much money promoting the state.

Actually we are lagging behind our neighbors. And we have a lot to lose by such crazy thinking.

A small amount of money spent with the state tourism department generates much more money – it is as simple as that. The more people we get here the more money they spend. That outside money circulates around our communities. It is a win-win.

One legislator even suggested getting rid of the state’s WOT (Wyoming Office of Tourism) and actually heard a few shouts of encouragement in the State Senate. You can’t make this stuff up.

A few decades ago Colorado got rid of its tourism department, which was a disaster. It took years for them to get it restored and then even more years for their hospitality industry to recover. They never tried it again.

In the past six months, the energy economy in Wyoming has taken some serious hits leaving folks from Gillette to Rock Springs and Cheyenne to Lovell nervous and pessimistic.

Gov. Mark Gordon has responded by saying he anticipates implementing budget restraints.

But all is not so dim when it comes to the state economy.

In fact the one aspect of Wyoming’s economy that is bright is so bright, it is positively blinding.

Tourism, the state’s number-two industry, has never seen years like 2015-2019.

More than 10 million people annually visited the Cowboy State. Yellowstone National Park now hits 4 million, which is a staggering number.

All these visitors spent a staggering $3 billion with motels, gas stations, gift shops and restaurants. In 2005, the total was $2 billion. This industry is really growing at a steady pace.

Tourists spend money in all parts of Wyoming. There truly is no place that does not benefit from the visitor.

Grand Teton Park and Jackson Hole are increasing. Even places like Fossil Butte near Kemmerer are up 10 percent, which shows the growth of cultural tourism.

All these tourists paid over $160 million in local and state taxes during 2019, which is an amazing number. Sales taxes, alone, are up over 10 percent.

The state’s investment in new welcome centers is paying off with increases in visitation.

During the recent tourism conference, members of the industry were warned the 2020 Legislature might try to cut the marketing budget of the tourism department because of the afore-mentioned dip in state revenues,

My advice to them would be to do just the opposite. If this is the one area of state government that is making money, why not spend even more and make even more money?

Wyoming’s tourism industry is supported on a three-legged stool of state spending, local county lodging board spending and industry spending. Our state is the envy of the country and it is obviously why – it is working!

It is mind-boggling that every so often we hear some shrill opponents who decry spending state money on tourism promotion. They are simply wrong. This is a program that works very well. We all need to get behind it and try to grow it even more.

Tourism as the state’s number-two industry boasts 31,000 jobs. As an industry, it creates new jobs in the rapidly disappearing middle class sector.

Tourism is great for Wyoming. Spending money to promote it is good for everyone. That’s WY!

Bill Sniffin: Remembering Malcolm Wallop and His Unlikely and Amazing Victory in 1976

in Bill Sniffin/Column
Malcolm Wallop
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On this day in 1933, Malcolm Wallop was born. Wallop served as U.S. Senator for Wyoming from 1977 – 1995.

One of his campaign advertisements is still talked about today because of its creativity and its overall impact on political advertising. Cowboy State Daily publisher Bill Sniffin tells the story:

A porta-potty. In a rancher’s pasture?  Really?

Possibly the biggest campaign idea helping lead to the biggest political upset in Wyoming history was hatched in the Mint Bar in Sheridan in late October, 1976.

John Jenkins, Byra Kite and a political consultant named Bob Goodman were trying to find a differentiating issue that would help their huge underdog candidate Malcolm Wallop surge ahead of U. S. Senate powerhouse Gale McGee.

Much like today, Wyoming citizens in those days were chafing over what they considered federal over-reach.  The Cowboy State seemed to be a place full of good old boys (and gals) who just wanted to be left alone.

But a series of Democratic Congresses had instituted many onerous federal regulations that even annoyed folks way out here on the frontier. Sound familiar?

McGee was a Democratic stalwart who had served 18 years in the Senate and his whole campaign was based on all the “clout” he had accumulated during his time in Washington, DC.

When Republican Wallop brought in Goodman to help his campaign, he was trailing McGee in the polls by a factor of 72 percent to 18 percent. National newspapers were calling McGee’s Senate seat  “safe” which would help maintain the Democrats huge Senate lead of 62 Democrats versus just 38 Republicans. Much different than today.

In Wyoming, the Congressional delegation was 2:1 in favor of the Democrats with Sen. McGee and U. S. Rep. Teno Roncalio on one side and Republican Sen. Cliff Hansen on the other. Wyoming was a much different state politically 42 years ago than it is today.

McGee pretty much used his own staff to conduct his campaign. He did little polling and had no outside consultants. And why not?  He was an overwhelming favorite.

So how could the Wallop campaign overcome such a deficit to win in November?

Four decades later, John Jenkins, a Buffalo rancher and owner of an oil company, recalls that campaign when Wallop hired him, Goodman, and Kite. Goodman was advocating using extensive polling and something new – widespread TV advertising.

Wallop had lost in the Republican gubernatorial primary two years earlier and was in hot water with state GOP officials because of his perceived lukewarm support of the ultimate nominee Dick Jones. That 1974 Republican primary was arguably the most amazing primary in the state’s history.  These were great candidates jousting hard with each other until conservative Jones emerged the winner.

 Jones lost to Democrat Ed Herschler in the subsequent general election in a race still recalled and bemoaned by Republican state political leaders.

The Wallop campaign correctly tagged McGee, who was the chairman of the Senate Postal Committee, as a proponent of big, over-reaching federal government.  McGee defended the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA), both of which were angering Wyoming folks who just wanted to be left alone.

McGee was also one of the biggest backers of the Vietnam War.  As a young editor back in 1976, I recall chatting with McGee at a big Democrat rally in Hudson just before Election Day.  McGee told me he was wrong. “In hindsight, it wasn’t wise for us to go there.”  I was not able to publish that comment until after the election.  Even patriotic folks in Wyoming had gotten bitterly tired of the war, which did not end until 1975.

As Wallop gained in the polls with general election day nearing, those three men gathered in the Mint Bar in Sheridan, as Jenkins recalls. They brainstormed what kind of message could they create which would best tell their story?

The final TV ad (and accompanying newspaper ads) showed a cowboy getting ready to go out to work on the range in the morning. Strapped to his pack animal is a porta-potty.  The voice-over talked about how the feds can’t even let you “do your business” out in the field without their regulations interfering.  It was an instant classic.  Wyoming voters were captivated. The needle moved. A lot.

When the general election votes were tallied, it was not even close.  Wallop won with 84,810 votes to McGee’s 70,558.

Cat Urbigkit: State Leaders Don’t Want to Hear From Public on Land Deal

in Cat Urbigkit/Column
Wyoming
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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist

I’ve been critical of our state leaders for keeping the public in the dark about nearly anything to do with the proposed purchase of 1 million acres of surface and 4 million acres of mineral rights of the checkerboard lands in southern Wyoming – a deal these same leaders said is “the largest government purchase of private land since the United States purchased Alaska.”

Our state leaders keep telling us that what a unique opportunity this deal is, and that the deal could be a “strategic investment” to add income to state coffers, and “unprecedented multiple-use access for the public.” But when it comes to specifics, they aren’t sharing much.

The lands involved in the deal are the checkerboard properties that Occidental Petroleum got when it acquired them from Anadarko Petroleum. The need-to-be-secretive nonsense rose to a new level this week as one legislator on the House floor cautioned other legislators not to say the names of the companies involved, instead saying something like “a company that begins with the letter A, that sold its assets to a company that begins with the letter O.” I’m not kidding; that actually happened on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, when the substantially revised House Bill 249 enabling the State Loan and Investment Board to pursue the deal came up for second reading on the House floor, Representative Albert Sommers (R-Sublette) proposed an amendment that would require the SLIB to hold at least one public meeting in a county where the purchase is located “to gather input prior to the purchase” being finalized. Sommers suggested state officials should hear from the public in the affected neighborhoods where the land is located.

Representative Tom Crank (R-Lincoln, Sweetwater, Uinta) spoke in support of Sommers’s amendment, noting that the land deal involves three counties in which he represents, “all of which have expressed concerns” about the deal.

Representative David Miller (R-Fremont) If we’re negotiating on this and all the sudden, we come to terms, and then we have to go have public meetings – that kills it, in my book.”

Representative Dan Kirkbride (R-Platte, Converse) suggested that from his recollection of the map of the properties circulating around the state house, some of the land is located in Laramie County, so when SLIB meets in Cheyenne, it’s fulfilling the purpose of Sommers’s amendment.

Representative Bob Nicholas (R-Laramie) spoke against the amendment: “I don’t think it’s our directive to tell the SLIB Board where they need to meet. I think we can recommend it. And my guess is they’ll do what they need to do, what they think is politically appropriate.”

Representative David Northrup (R-Park) also spoke against the idea: “My experience with these kinds of land deals and schools is as soon as you breathe a breath of where it is, that land around it, and that land, also become significantly higher priced. A public meeting would do nothing but jack the price up if you ask me, so I’m against it.”

Sommers responded: “We know where the land is; it’s the checkerboard.” Sommers said his amendment didn’t specify when during the process the meeting would have to be held, other than before the deal was finalized.

“You could go out right now and simply ask the residents in those areas to comment on a proposed purchase, and what may needed to be in that purchase to satisfy their concerns or wants,” Sommers said, adding that hearing from the public should be part of the state’s due diligence, and noting that his amendment was not onerous.

Sommers’ amendment for a public meeting was then promptly defeated on the House floor, and the bill passed second reading.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

Gordon/Wyo Leadership: Million Acre Land Purchase Great for Wyoming

in Column/Mark Gordon
Mark Gordon file photo
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By Governor Mark Gordon, House Speaker Steve Harshman, Senate President Drew Perkins, and State Senator Eli Bebout

That is wise advice that we took to heart when we first became aware of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring lands in Wyoming into Wyoming hands. Occidental Petroleum recently acquired Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, a company that owned most of the original Union Pacific Land Grant (lands that were granted to the railroads during the Civil War).

Today, Wyoming has a unique opportunity to acquire them. These lands could be a strategic investment that will add income to the state and unprecedented multiple-use access for the public.

Over the next few years, Wyoming will face some hard choices about how we fund our schools and senior centers, how we maintain infrastructure like our sewer systems or irrigation canals, and how we continue to provide critical services.

It’s no secret that Wyoming has seen a significant dip in coal and natural gas production, illustrating how precarious our revenue streams are. Our latest estimates project state revenue dropping another $156.3 million over the next two years, and it is anybody’s guess where it will go from there. The state could see its existing deficit grow by $200 million. So why would we want to buy more land and minerals at this time? Well, because it could be an amazing investment, inflation hedge, chance to better secure our state’s future and can be bought at a particularly advantageous time.

Yes, Wyoming faces big challenges – challenges that must be met with big ideas and thoughtful solutions. Bills in the House and Senate that were introduced last week are meant to begin a thorough examination of a potential opportunity that might prove to be extraordinarily beneficial for Wyoming and her citizens.

The lands and minerals that President Lincoln granted to Union Pacific in 1862, six years before Wyoming became a Territory, helped finance construction of the Transcontinental Railroad and they play an historic role in how Wyoming became a state. They were and are some of the most mineral-rich lands in our country and they helped provide the resources to power locomotives across the West.

This railroad land grant surrounded the lands where train tracks were to be laid. Odd-numbered sections were given to the railroad while the federal government kept even-numbered plots. This checkerboard pattern extends 20 miles on either side of the Union Pacific railroad as it traverses the southern part of the state.

Today, this checkerboard pattern makes land management challenging and can hinder access, both for multiple-use and mineral development. Sections owned and managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management are intermingled with sections owned by Occidental Petroleum and other private landowners. The purchase we are considering seeks to acquire only the Occidental Petroleum lands that are for sale – no other private lands or federal lands are involved, as they are not for sale.

The asset totals around 1 million acres of surface lands and about 4 million acres of mineral ownership. It includes a majority mineral ownership underneath the world’s largest naturally occurring soda ash deposit, a bedrock of Wyoming’s economy. It also includes proven developed and undeveloped oil, gas and coal resources, significant grazing operations, potential for renewable energy development and future exploratory opportunities in everything from lithium to rare earth minerals. It is also home to some of our state’s most iconic game.

Activities on this land already provide current income and the promise for future revenue, which could yield stable cash flow and help diversify Wyoming’s revenue picture. A steadier income stream would be good for our schools and communities.

Wyoming is not looking at this purchase to try to become a developer or a mining company; rather, we see the land grant opportunity as a way for the state to expand the areas where we already have expertise: land and mineral management.

This opportunity is not just about the money. This acquisition has enormous potential benefits for multiple-use that are valuable to all citizens of Wyoming, giving us the opportunity to assemble one of the largest contiguous pieces of public land in the continental United States. One that will benefit wildlife, hunters, fishermen and outdoor recreationists while achieving responsible development of rich natural resources.

This potential acquisition, though, like any investment, is not without risk and we must weigh that risk carefully. Significant questions involving county property and ad valorem tax must be thoroughly explored. There is a lot to consider, and as of today there is still much to learn about the prospect.

The bills being considered by the Legislature lay out a process for the state’s elected leaders to thoroughly evaluate this opportunity and determine if it is a prudent investment. It will require significant due diligence and outside appraisal of the lands in question. If the investment doesn’t make sense, we will not proceed. Nothing is determined at this point.

We also recognize opportunities like this will not last forever. Passage of these bills will allow us to advance this unique opportunity if a purchase seems fiscally prudent. It is important to remember that a potential purchase of this magnitude must have legislative oversight and approval.

Opportunities like this don’t come along very often. The land grant has only changed hands twice in its 150-plus year history. It’s likely that this would be the largest government purchase of private land since the United States purchased Alaska. That’s a big deal.

But thinking big is nothing new to Wyoming. In 1968, Gov. Stan Hathaway and the state’s leaders stepped forward and levied the first severance tax on mineral production. In 1974, they did it again and created the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund.

These examples of big thinking paid off for Wyoming, and it made us the envy of the nation. Now, we have the chance to do it again by making the best investment of all – in ourselves.

Cat Urbigkit: House Passes First Reading of Land Deal Bill

in Cat Urbigkit/Column
wild horses
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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist

On Tuesday afternoon, it took 19 minutes for Representative Steve Harshman (R-Natrona County) to introduce and describe to fellow House members revamped House Bill 249 allowing the State Loan and Investment Board to investigate and pursue the purchase of 1 million acres of surface, and 4 million acres of mineral rights in southern Wyoming. It took House members about half an hour of asking questions before the bill was passed by the committee of the whole on first reading.

Representative Scott Clem (R-Campbell County) said he is struggling with the policy shift of state government taking over large properties instead of allowing private markets to take advantage of the land sale. “Why should this body entertain this policy shift?” he asked. Clem said he’s wrestling with the state acting as though it’s a private corporation.

Another representative suggested a map of the proposed land deal should be circulated, and it was also noted that there are numerous other entities that are interested in the same properties, so the state has competition in the deal.

Representative Chuck Gray (R-Natrona County) asked if legislators could have an idea of the range of possible purchase price, noting that he’d heard the range from $400 million on the low end, to $2 billion on the high end.

Harshman responded, “I really don’t know. I’ve heard that same range,” adding that the state won’t know until it has done more research. Larsen urged caution to the legislative body to “not let unanswered questions or speculation grow and rule the day.”

After listening to other legislators asking questions and getting few specific answers, Gray cautioned about “irrational exuberance” taking hold when so little is known about the deal.

Harshman responded that he is also cautious about “irrational exuberance,” but added that this legislation establishes sideboards for state action, asserting that the State Loan and Investment Board could examine the land purchase on its own – without the legislature acting.

“We don’t even need to do this,” Harshman said. “The SLIB could do this on its own.”

Representative Albert Sommers (R-Sublette County) said he still has three concerns that he intends to address via amendments in Wednesday’s floor session. Sommers wants an affirmative vote of the legislature before the deal could be finalized; the addition of a public participation process by requiring SLIB to hold a public meeting in an affected county; and some recognition of traditional uses of these lands, noting that some of the grazing lessees have used this landscape for more than 100 years.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

Dave Simpson — Splitsville: States Head for the Exits

in Dave Simpson
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By Dave Simpson, Cowboy State Daily columnist

BAILING OUT: I see on the news that some folks in Virginia, upset over gun control, want to secede from their state and join up with West Virginia.

In Oregon, saner residents want to pull up stakes in that nutty liberal state and saddle up with Idaho, giving Idaho some swell new Pacific coastline.

There’s always talk in Illinois of the rural areas of my home state splitting the sheets with Chicago, and forming their own state. Forming a new state, some feel, would be preferable to moving to get away from Illinois’ precarious state finances, high taxes, and corrupt politicians.

In Colorado, several years ago Moffat County, on the Western Slope, and Weld County, in eastern Colorado, expressed interest in bailing out and joining Wyoming. Lately, folks in Weld County want to try it again.

It’s not easy getting out of one state and joining another, or forming a new state. Nobody has done it since West Virginia became it’s own state. Everybody and their brother, including Congress, has to agree, making it virtually impossible.

Back in the 1980s, I was a reporter at the Wyoming Legislature when a group from western Nebraska showed up, saying they wanted to secede from Nebraska, and attach themselves to Wyoming, like a big Cornhusker carbuncle on the eastern border. Their complaint: It was 400 miles to their state capital in Lincoln. (Apparently, they had just figured that out.)

I find it reassuring that parts of two of our neighboring states wanted to attach themselves to Wyoming. And no part of Wyoming, to my knowledge, wants to leave our state and join some other state. (We’ve got it good out here, with fresh air, awesome vistas and low taxes. But, don’t tell anybody.)

I’ll always remember the advice one Wyoming lawmaker gave to the delegation from western Nebraska:

“Sober up.”

HALF FULL: Who says there’s no good news in the paper these days?

According to recent news reports, an unspecified number of personnel at Warren Air Force Base, who provide security for 150 Minuteman missiles buried in silos north and east of Cheyenne, have been smoking marijuana on the job.

(Marijuana, as you know, is legal a mere nine miles away in Colorado.)

Living cheek by jowl with one leg of our nuclear triad is no big deal out here. We’ve done it since the 1960s. On Interstate-80 and I-25, you see armored cars with gun turrets, dark blue government Suburbans and crew-cab pickups transporting missile crews to and from the underground launch control facilities that each control 10 missiles. Periodically, you see convoys of well-armed vehicles, with two helicopters circling above, going to swap out nuclear warheads or missiles at the silos that dot our landscape.

Way back in the 1980s, in a Cheyenne bar, I talked to an airman who worked in an underground launch control facility. Does it get boring? He replied, “Have you ever read every word in a Playboy magazine? That’s how boring it gets.”

I asked if he could turn the key to launch missiles. He said by the time he would get the order to launch, he figured his girlfriend and his stereo would already be incinerated by the enemy, so yes, he could turn that key.

But Dave, you’re wondering, how could the fact that airmen are suspected of smoking marijuana on the job possibly be good news?

Well, as we all know, we need to see the glass as half full instead of half empty, and always look for the pony hidden in the pile of manure.

The good news is that four years ago, they caught a small number of missile security personnel taking LSD.

We’re making progress here, people.

Give it another four years and they’ll be drinking Near Beer.

NO WINNEBAGO:  I was disappointed to see that Andrew Yang gave up his run for the presidency.

You’ll recall that the Democrat businessman, who is rich, proposed giving every American $1,000 a month, even though we’re already $23 trillion in debt.

I was holding out for Andrew to throw in a free Winnebago RV for senior citizens like me. I think seniors have a RIGHT to a free Winnebago.

Don’t you?

Dave Simpson can be contacted at davesimpson145@hotmail.com

Cat Urbigkit: House Approps Reworks State Land Deal Bill

in Cat Urbigkit/Column
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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist

On Monday the House Appropriations Committee worked until after 9 p.m. to make substantial revisions to House Bill 249 that enables Governor Mark Gordon and other members of the State Loan and Investment Board (SLIB) to examine and negotiate a deal for 1 million acres of surface and 4 million acres of mineral rights in southwestern Wyoming.

With only a few hours remaining for bills to be passed out of committee in their house of origin, in the end the committee gave the bill the green light on a 6-1 vote.

The revised bill bears little resemblance to the bill as originally filed. The ability for the legislature to tap into the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account for the purchase was removed, replaced with a provision for the state to issue special revenue bonds to fund the deal to purchase assets from Occidental Petroleum (among other possible funding sources).

The bill gives members of the SLIB, and three appointed members from each house of the legislature, the ability to investigate the possibility of purchasing the properties, to conduct due diligence on the deal, and to make arrangements to purchase the assets.

This group will be required to report their findings to the legislature, outlining the methods used in determining the market value of the properties, including evidence of marketable title and any title defects that exit.

The committee will report to the legislature its recommendations on where the funding for the deal should originate, any legislation needed to complete the deal, and any changes to laws that are needed to best manage the assets.

The Attorney General would have to approve the deal, and the bill now includes a provision that even if the committee comes to a purchase agreement, the legislature would have to convene and adjourn prior to the deal being finalized.

Although the bill does not require any action of the legislature for the deal to be finalized (no up-or-down vote is currently included in the language), should the legislature decide against the deal, the state would not be bound to the negotiated purchase agreement and the state would incur no liability for its efforts.

There is considerable conflict and interest in what would guide state management of the acquired lands, and currently it appears that how the lands will be managed depends on where the money to fund the deal comes from.

If part of the purchase comes from money in the Common School Permanent Land Fund, those lands must be identified and managed similar to the rest of state trust lands, with the top priority as generation of revenue, or maximizing the return on investment.

But one amendment to the bill calls for other surface use of land purchased via other funding mechanisms to be managed for multiple use under another provision of existing statute.

Whether the state can, or should, identify specific parcels for purchase with funding from a specific account is at issue, or whether the state should use a more “proportional” method is still being debated.

Although no official numbers have been released, when discussing the possibility of issuing special revenue bonds, the committee used a hypothetical number of a $1.2 billion purchase price, and one committee member noted that it has been represented to the legislature that the lands involved in the deal currently provide an annual revenue stream of $130-150 million.

Representative Albert Sommers, a Republican from Sublette County, noted the bill’s lack of inclusion of a process to gain public comment, calling it “a glaring omission,” but in the end supported the revised bill.

“I have a lot of misgivings,” Sommers said, “but probably the only thing scarier than purchasing this is not examining it. It’s a huge swath of land that is kind of the essence of southwest Wyoming. Not knowing where that may go, in the end, for good or evil – I think we owe it to that chunk of land to take a look at it.”

Representative Andy Schwartz, who noted that the bill being reviewed Monday evening was the third version of the bill he’d read in about four days, cast the lone vote against the bill.

“I still have concerns about the structure of the bill itself,” Schwartz said. “It’s a leap of faith on our part.” Schwartz said that he doesn’t feel like he has enough information at this point, and cautioned that “things like this have a way of gaining momentum, which really concerns me.”

Gordon’s energy advisor Randall Luthi addressed the committee in its final minutes of deliberations, noting that the House bill is now substantially different from the bill filed in the Senate, “and we have full confidence that you’ll work it out.”

Luthi said while he’s supportive of House efforts to ensure the SLIB works toward due diligence on the land purchase, he cautioned about “unnecessarily tying the hands” of the governor and SLIB to conduct negotiations, and that the legislature should allow SLIB to “manage the lands different than what we are used to.”

Luthi also noted the importance of the Senate’s version of the bill that allows the state to receive gifts or donations toward the land purchase, while noting that such gifts may have “some strings attached to them” that would have to be considered.

Other state agencies provided input to the committee Monday night, including Deputy State Treasurer Dawn Williams who took issue with the overall attempt to give SLIB the authority to oversee this investment when it’s the State Treasurer that is charged with investment of state funds.

She suggested that “some duties are best performed” by the State Treasurer’s office, and when it comes to the SLIB, “this isn’t their wheelhouse.” She said her office needs to be involved in the deal and pointed to the discussion segregation of assets via its funding source, noting that wouldn’t pass the “prudent investor rule” to which state investments are bound.

State Treasurer’s Office Chief Investment Officer Patrick Fleming agreed, noting “We are focused on maximizing return; that is what we do.”

With the exception of Schwartz, all other committee members voted to pass the revised bill, including Sommers, Bob Nicholas, Mark Kinner, Lloyd Larsen, Jared Olsen, and Tom Walters. The bill is expected to be subject to numerous amendments on the House floor on Tuesday.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

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