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Bob Geha: Statewide Lodging Tax Wins House Approval

in News/politics/Tourism

By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

A measure that would impose a statewide 5 percent lodging tax on the cost of hotel and motel rooms won final approval Monday from the state House of Representatives.

House Bill 134 won approval in its final reading from the House on a vote of 39-19, sending it to the Senate for its review.

The bill would impose a 5 percent tax statewide, with 3 percent — about $13 million a year — going to the state Tourism Department for use in promoting Wyoming tourism.

Income from the remaining 2 percent would go to the state’s counties and another 2 percent tax could be imposed at the county level with voter approval.

Chris Brown of the Wyoming Restaurant and Lodging Association said the bill’s approval is a victory for tourism in Wyoming.

“By putting the state’s second largest (income) generator and the promoting arm of Wyoming on a more competitive footing, this is a win for outdoor recreation, it’s a win for tourism, it’s a win for the state,” he said.

Opponents argued voters might be hesitant to approve the extra 2 percent tax with the statewide tax in place.

“My Sublette County people were afraid of that,” said Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale. “They’re afraid that this bill could cause the voter to have a backlash and they may not be able to get their remaining 2 percent that’s (approved by) a vote of the people.”

A similar bill passed the House last year, but was killed in the Senate.

Wyoming House Kills Child-Marriage Bill

in News/politics
Wyoming Legislature

A proposal to raise the legal age for marriage in Wyoming to 18 died Friday in the state House.

Representatives voted not to introduce HB 67, sponsored by Rep. Charles Pelkey. D-Laramie.

Pelkey, who unsuccessfully offered a similar bill during the Legislature’s general session last year, said people who marry under the age of 18 face legal limits on what they can do. He also noted domestic violence and divorce rates are often higher among those who marry before the age of 18.

The bill was part of a wider effort seen around the world, Pelkey said.

“What I’m trying to do in Wyoming is to be part of a global effort to put a cap on the age of marriage at at least age 18,” he said. “Even Saudi Arabia right now is trying to take steps to eliminate child marriage.”

But Rep. Hans Hunt, R-Newcastle, said there are often many factors involved when people marry young that the proposal did not take into account.

“I think that reality and life get in the way of what would otherwise, one would hope, be a straightforward, direct situation,” he said. “It’s a more complex set of circumstances, often.”

People in Wyoming can now get married at the age of 16 or younger with court permission.

Bob Geha: Wyoming Legislature Week in Review

in News/politics
Bob Geha

Wyoming’s Legislature ended the first week of its budget session Friday with a deadline for the introduction of bills to be considered during the budget session.

During a budget session, a non-budget bill needs to collect the votes of two-thirds of the House or Senate to be considered. Any bill not introduced by Friday will not be considered this year.

Among the bills making their way through the process:

HB 28, which would prevent government entities at any level from using public money to conduct “gun buybacks.”

HB 44, the bill that would put Wyoming on Standard Time throughout the year if the federal government approved the change and four surrounding states did the same.

HB 134, imposing a statewide lodging tax of 5 percent.

SF 42, 50 and 52, which bring Wyoming into compliance with new federal rules banning the sale of tobacco to those under 21.

A number of high-profile bills also failed to gain introduction in the Legislature’s first week. 

Among those bills: 

HB 75, which would have extended Medicaid coverage in the state to an estimated additional 19,000 people at a cost to the state of about $18 million in the first two years.

SF 6, a proposed toll on travelers on Interstate 80. Money raised would be used on highway maintenance.

SF 80, proposing a three-day waiting period between the time a person buys a handgun and the time he or she can take possession of it.

SF 88 would have repealed all of Wyoming’s gun-free zones.

HB 66 proposed an end to Wyoming’s death penalty.

HB 63 proposed a 3-cent per gallon increase in taxes on gasoline, bringing the total state taxes to 27 cents per gallon.

Several bills that promised to generate considerable discussion were not voted on for introduction, including bills proposing a personal income tax and a corporate income tax.

House kills ‘Defend the Guard Act’

in News/politics

A measure designed to ban the deployment of Wyoming National Guard members without a formal declaration of war failed to clear introduction in the House on Friday.

House Bill 98, sponsored by Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, would have prohibited the deployment of Wyoming guard members into active duty unless Congress had declared war.

The measure was the subject of a news conference Friday during which U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, spoke in support of the bill.

The bill, dubbed the “Defend the Guard Act,” was defeated in a vote of 22-35.

Bob Geha: Wyoming Bill Would Boost Minimum Wage to $7.25

in News/politics
Bob Geha

By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

A proposed increase in the state’s minimum wage is awaiting action in the state House of Representatives.

HB 144 would require all businesses in the state to pay their employees at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Wyoming’s minimum wage is now set at $5.15 an hour, but the bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, would see the state’s minimum wage replaced by the federal wage.

The bill would also allow county commissioners to establish minimum wages within their counties that are higher than the federal minimum wages.

Yin said many employers in Wyoming already pay more than the minimum wage because the cost of living in Wyoming is rising.

The bill must receive the support of 40 representatives to be introduced.

Bob Geha: Taxpayer Bill of Rights Legislation Introduced

in News/politics/Taxes
Bob Geha

By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

The state’s voters would have to approve tax increases and higher debt levels under a measure introduced in Wyoming’s House.

House Joint Resolution 2 proposes an amendment to the state’s Constitution that would require voters to approve tax increases by any governmental entity in the state.

The measure, referred to as the “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights,” was proposed by state Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper.

“This tax increase narrative keeps coming back, it’s the wrong move for our state,” he said. “The other thing this bill does is to put a cap on state expenditures … so that we stop these boom and bust cycles in terms of expenditures. We save more during the boom so we have more in savings during the bust and that means we don’t need the tax increases.”

Gray said if the amendment had been in place years ago, Wyoming would have more than twice in savings what it does now.

To be considered during the budget session, the bill must win the support of 40 representatives. If the bill is approved, a constitutional amendment would be submitted to voters during the general election in November.

Bob Geha: Wyoming State Income Tax Proposed

in Government spending/News/politics
Bob Geha

By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would impose Wyoming’s first income tax has been proposed for consideration by the Legislature.

Sponsored by House Minority Leader Cathy Connolly, House Bill 147 would impose a four percent tax on gross income of more than $200,000 a year.

The measure is necessary to continue paying for public services in the state, said Connolly, D-Laramie.

“We have to think about what we need in order to get the revenue we need for the state,” she said. “And it’s not extra money. It’s services that all of us use and at this point, they’ve been paid for by the extractive industries. We need to come up with different revenue streams and this is one of them.”

Connolly said the tax would raise about $115 million a year to be used for funding public education.

The tax would affect only two percent to three percent of Wyoming’s taxpayers, she added.

The bill is awaiting introduction in the House. As a non-budget bill, the measure will need the support of at least 40 representatives to be introduced for consideration.

PILT: Bill Would Investigate Underpayment on Federal Lands

in News/politics

By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming would launch an investigation into how the federal government pays fees for its land within the state under a measure awaiting Senate review.

The study proposed by Senate File 110 would evaluate federal payments in lieu of taxes, fees the federal government pays on public land that cannot be taxed by a state.

Former Utah Rep. Ken Ivory said the formula used to determine the payments has undervalued public land for several decades.

Ivory said when the PILT program was created in 1976, the federal government promised to make payments equal to property taxes that could have been collected on public land.

“Well, in 1976, they didn’t have the technology to figure out what that was,” he said. “So they came up with a subjective formula that was the number of acres, capped by the population and you had some counties that were getting about $1 per acre.”

The value of taxes on state or private property now ranges from $45 to $50 per acre, Ivory said.

Technology has advanced to the point the federal lands can be more accurately valued for the program, he said.

“Now there’s technology … to actually use real data, real time to determine the fair taxable value of that land to help the federal government begin to discuss honoring that promise they made,” he said.

The bill would require the Office of State Lands and Investments to conduct a study to more accurately assess the value of the land and determine the impact of decades of underpayment.

The bill must win the support of 20 members of the Senate to be considered during the Legislature’s budget session.

Barrasso on a Bernie – Trump Election: People Will Reject Socialism

in News/politics

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso said President Trump would beat Democratic candidate for president Sen. Bernie Sanders in a hypothetical matchup.

Appearing on FOX Business News with Stuart Varney on Wednesday, Barrasso said one reason the public won’t vote for Sanders is his embrace of socialism.

“Economic freedom and free markets are the engine of our economy whereas socialism is the enemy of our economy,” Barrasso said. “If you had to choose, I think the American people will stay with economic freedom over socialism any day.”

Varney also asked Barrasso about Sander’s Medicare-For-All plan and how that would affect the health care system in the U.S.

“As a doctor, most doctors are concerned — as they should be — with their patients,” Barrasso said. “And the impact on patients would be terrible. People would end up paying more to wait longer for worse care.”

“Bernie is talking about taking 180 million people — who right now get their health care insurance through work and take a sledgehammer to it. They would lose all of their health care,” he said.

“Yet at the same time, he wants these people to pay for health insurance for illegal immigrants,” he said.

Barrasso said once people understand the specifics of Sanders’ controversial proposal they won’t back it.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon Delivers 2020 State of the State Address

in News/politics
Mark Gordon

By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s economy and its people are strong. That is the central message of Gov Mark Gordon’s second State of the State address.

The governor delivered his speech to a joint session of the Wyoming Legislature Monday morning kicking off the 2020 Budget Session.

“We are strong because of our people,” Gov. Gordon said. “We are strong because we have planned well for challenging times. We are strong because of industries: energy, tourism, agriculture, and the emerging sectors of knowledge-based business and manufacturing.”

The governor said the time has come to have a serious conversation about the budget and the future of state revenues.

“We have savings,” he said. “This means we have time. Not a lot of time. But time to make thoughtful decisions about our future and our budget.”

“The budget I presented you which the Joint Appropriations Committee passed was intended to trigger a serious conversation about future. Ways to diversity our economy and ways to strengthen our state.”

Meanwhile, the governor is pushing for bonuses for state employees. He is proposing one time funding of $20 million and speaks to the value of the state’s workforce.

“We continually need to train new employees who then become better candidates for positions in other states with better pay scales,” he said. “This is unacceptably expensive and it is very costly.  We should be thinking about keeping the people who know what to do and how to do it.”

Gov Gordon was very vocal about the global pushback on fossil fuels which have driven Wyoming’s economy for so many years.

“We produce better energy more safely and more attention to the environment than anywhere else on the planet. And yet our industries are still discriminated against, maligned, and decried as dead,” he said. “Well, not on my watch.”

And the couple hundred million will have to come out of savings to make up the shortfall in education funding.

At the same time, the state will look at readjusting the K-12 funding model.

The governor is also asking the legislature to cut back on capital construction.

Robert Geha, Cowboy State Daily

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