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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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Mark Gordon file photo
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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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Bob Geha
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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.

Cody Students to Lobby Legislature on Vaping, Voyeurism, and College Tuition

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Being a teenager can be hard — caught between adulthood and childhood, and it seems the adults have all the power.

But a program at Cody High School allows students to have a say in the laws that govern them.

The Youth For Justice program started as a social studies project 25 years ago. But coordinator Deb White said she and her students became passionate about the legislative process after a tragedy struck a local youth just one year later.

“That next year, a kid in Cody died in a single car rollover,” White said, “and there were no seatbelt laws in the state of Wyoming at the time. My kids were like, ‘There should be a law about that.’ 

“So we went down to Cheyenne and started lobbying,” she continued. “It took us two years to get that through, and since then, every year, we go down and get laws passed.”

A group of Cody High School students travel to the state Capitol each year to attend one day of the Legislature’s session, lobbying for everything from seatbelt laws to a ban on teenage smoking. White noted that the students decide which bills they want to see passed.

“We actually start researching in September or October,” White said, “and start thinking about things that the kids believe should be a law.”

According to White, the students research what other states are doing with regards to similar laws, then find a sponsor for the bill they would like to see passed.

“We’re to the point now where people call us,” White said, explaining that a local police officer reached out to the group last year to lobby for a law that would require medical professionals in Wyoming to report gunshot and stab wounds.

“It’s ridiculous that the bill didn’t pass last year,” White said. “Wyoming is one of two states where medical professionals don’t have to report gunshot wounds to the police.”

Danny Deming, a senior at Cody High School, pointed out that the program allows students to interact directly with the legislators, and he said that makes a difference.

“Legislators get a unique perspective,” he said, “because they hear from students who are directly affected by the laws they’re passing.”

This year, the students are putting their efforts behind four different bills – one of which would require local law enforcement agencies to enforce federal laws banning vaping among those under the age of 21.

“We’re working with local legislators and local businessmen on ways to reduce youth access (to vaping products),” White said. 

Other bills the group is working on include one that would allow students who are children of active members of the military to attend Wyoming colleges at in-state tuition rates, as well as a bill that tightens up language in voyeurism laws.

At one time, there were eight to 10 schools in Wyoming that sent students to the legislature, but White said Cody may be the only district that sends kids every year.

“It is the most educational experience I’ve ever had with kids,” White said. “Even though I was a science teacher, and this is a social studies program, it’s all the skills. It’s research, and media creation, and public speaking. It’s authentic assessment.

“And word on the street is, the Cody Youth For Justice kids are the most effective lobbyists in the state of Wyoming.”

The Wyoming Legislature convenes on Feb. 10. Cody High School’s Youth For Justice students will be there to make sure their voices are heard.

Liz Cheney: Nancy Pelosi Dishonored the House; She Owes America An Apology

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U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.) says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi owes the American people an apology for her actions at the end of the State of the Union address Tuesday night.

Cheney, appearing on FOX News on Wednesday, was referring to Pelosi ripping in half the State of the Union address immediately following the conclusion of President Trump’s remarks.

“She owes the American people an apology,” Cheney said. “That’s an official document of the House of Representatives and she brought dishonor on the House of Representatives.

“She is the one who owes the people an apology,” she said.

Cheney also said Speaker Pelosi should apologize to America for her actions during the impeachment trial.

“She absolutely abandoned her oath to the Constitution,” she said.

When asked if she thought Democrats might attempt to impeach the president again, Cheney said she wouldn’t be surprised.

“I think it helps us [the Republican Party] every time Jerry Nadler, Adam Schiff, and Nancy Pelosi are on television,” Cheney said. “I want them on more.”

She said when the public sees them discussing “never-ending investigation and never-ending impeachment” that it will bolster Republican turnout in the November election.

“The American people see why elections matter so much and they see why it’s so important that we get the majority back,” she said.

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