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

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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

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Bob Geha
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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

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Bob Geha
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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

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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

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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

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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

Wyoming Legislature: Medicaid Expansion Bill Fails Introduction

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A measure that would have laid out a plan for the expansion of Medicaid insurance coverage to more Wyoming residents failed to win introduction Monday on the first day of the Legislature’s budget session.

House Bill 75, which would have authorized the state to work with federal authorities to create a plan to expand Medicaid coverage, failed to collect the votes of two-thirds of the House members needed for it to be considered during the budget session.

The bill, sponsored by the Legislature’s Revenue Committee, died on a vote of 21-36. All bills not related to the budget must win support from 40 representatives to move forward in the legislative process.

Backers said Medicaid expansion would provide coverage for about an additional 19,000 Wyoming residents at a cost of about $18 million every two years.

State of the State Reaction: “Thank God for the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund”

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Sara Burlingame
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By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

Legislative reaction to Gov Gordon State of the State address was mild and agreeable although both of their budgets are miles apart.

“If you look at our budget in the legislature versus the governor’s budget, they aren’t the same at all. We want very different things. But look at how much goodwill we have for each other, ” Rep. Sara Burlingame, D-Cheyenne, said.

“I think there is such warmth and mutual understand between the legislative body and the governor and that’s a really good sign going into the budget session where we don’t agree about a lot of where that money is going to go,” she said.

“Thank God for our forefathers and putting together that Permanent Mineral Trust Fund. It saved our bacon and it will continue to keep us safe from very drastic cuts,” Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, said.

No mention of Medicaid expansion in Governor Gordon’s address. House Bill 75 would authorize the state to come up with an expansion plan.

“Frankly I was disappointed that he didn’t,” Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, said. “But I understand. We’ve talked to the governor quite a bit about it and I think he’s evolving in that position. Hopefully we can get a bill out for him to take a look at.”

Gieurau also says the governor is sticking his neck out for Wyoming tourism by supporting a statewide lodging tax.

Robert Geha, Cowboy State Daily.

Guns, Taxes, and Time: Bob Geha’s Wyoming Legislature Preview

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By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

Governor Mark Gordon will kickoff the 2020 Legislative Budget Session with his second State of the State Address Monday morning.  Videographer Mike McCrimmon and I will be covering the action for Cowboy State Daily. 

Wyoming’s Legislature opens up its budget session on Monday and the majority of action will be focused around the proposed $3 billion budget that will finance state programs for the next two years.

However, the budget is not the only topic that will keep legislators busy for the next 20 or so days. Proposed bills pre-filed for consideration during the budget session include legislation on firearm regulation, taxes, and daylight savings time.

Below is a list of some bills the Legislature will review after Gov. Mark Gordon issues his second state-of-the-state address on Monday.

HB 28, Firearm Regulation: The bill would prohibit government entities from using public money to run firearm and ammunition “buyback” programs.

HB 78, Firearms in Private Vehicles: Preventing private entities from prohibiting the storage of firearms in their parking lots. Exemptions would be allowed for the parking lots of schools, government entities and religious organizations.

SF 80, Handgun Purchases: The bill would require a 3-day waiting period for firearm purchases.

HB 63, Fuel Tax Increase: Increasing gasoline taxes by 3 cents per gallon to a total of 27 cents.

HB 64, National Corporate Income Tax: The bill would impose a 7 percent corporate income tax on businesses with more than 100 shareholders. It is similar to a measure that was approved last year by the House but killed in the Senate.

HB 44, Daylight Savings Time: Permanently shifting Wyoming to Daylight Savings Time if surrounding states do the same and the change is approved by the federal govenrment.

HB 98, “Defend the Guard Act:” Specifying that members of the Wyoming National Guard could only be sent into battle if Congress declared war.

HB 75, Medicaid Expansion: Expanding Medicaid coverage to an estimated 19,000 Wyoming residents at a cost to the state of $18 million over the next two years.

SF 6: Tolling Authority on I-80: Setting a toll to travel Interstate 80. The revenue would be used for repairs on the highway.

SF 42, 50 and 52, Tobacco Sale Restrictions: Banning the sale of nicotine products in shops, online or by mail to anyone under the age of 21.

SJ 2, Restricting Legislative Spending: The bill would put before voters a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban legislators from appropriating money outside of budget sessions, which occur every even-numbered year. The bill would allow spending during those years only on issues deemed emergencies.

Because this is a budget session, all non-budget bills proposed must win the support of two-thirds of either the House or Senate to be considered.

Lawmakers will be able to continue filing proposed legislation for introduction until Friday.

How The Wyoming Legislature Builds the State Budget: A Primer

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Wyoming State Capitol
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By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

On Feb. 10, the 2020 Budget Session of the Wyoming Legislature officially begins, one that could be somber and frustrating — considering Gov. Mark Gordon has told lawmakers that after mandated expenses they only have around $23.5 million to work with.

As in prior budget sessions, the 12 members of the Joint Appropriations Committee, which crafts the state’s two-year spending bill, has met for a good chunk of December, poring over rows of numbers, grilling state agency heads and discussing the needs of the state. 

Most sections of the biennial state budget that lawmakers will pass will go into effect July 1 and end June 30, 2022. Read on to learn more about the JAC and the budgeting process. 

The Agencies

The budgeting process starts with the heads of state agencies, which fall under the executive branch, submitting budget requests to the governor budget in the autumn before budget sessions, which the Wyoming Constitution states must occur during even-numbered years.

The Governor

Each governor is required to release budget recommendations by Dec. 1 prior to a budget session, per the Constitution.

“What the governor does is he meets with all agencies and listens to their requests,” said John Hastert of Green River, a former Democratic lawmaker who served on JAC for about eight years.

The budget recommendations that the governor prepares for the Legislature show the agency requests and whether he accepts, modifies or rejects each one, Hastert said. 

Last month, Gov. Mark Gordon submitted budget recommendations with the expectation of around $3 billion in revenues from the General Fund — the state’s main bank account — and the Budget Reserve Account, which is akin to an overdraft account for the General Fund. 

Gordon largely recommended the Legislature keep spending low, considering the ongoing slump fossil fuel revenues, which most state leaders do not believe will be reversed any time soon, as the natural resources industry is undergoing fundamental changes. 

Gordon called for significant reduction in capital construction and limits on tapping the rainy day fund – to be used solely for legislatively-mandated educational needs and local governments. 

“We have only $23.5 million in structural (ongoing) funding available to

consider distributing during this biennium to any entity, including the entire executive branch, higher education, the Judicial Branch, and the Legislative Service Office,” Gordon said in his budget recommendations. “Additional spending cuts are on the horizon and appear imperative to keep Wyoming moving forward.”

Budget Hearings

During the first week of December, the governor and agency chiefs meet with the JAC and explain budget recommendations and requests.

This year, Gordon met with the JAC on Dec. 9. The agency heads met with the JAC through Dec. 20. 

JAC interviews with agencies are expected to continue into the beginning of January, from Jan. 6-10 and again from Jan. 13-17.

Hastert said the information during the interviews with the agencies is valuable: “They get first-hand information,” he said. 

JAC Markup

In the last two weeks in January, JAC markup begins. Lawmakers will start on the first pages of the governor’s budget recommendations and “mark up” the items with their own ideas of what the budget should look like. 

“They start with the governor’s recommendations and it’s either an ‘aye’ vote or ‘no’ vote or modify,” Hastert said. “Most of the time, it’s usually taking more of a cut. It’s just the nature of JAC to try to cut even further.”

The JAC’s version of the budget is the one that will be submitted for review by the Legislature.

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