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House begins final day by killing three bills

in Government spending/News/Health care/Taxes
Graduates toss their caps in the air, ALT=Wyoming to offer bachelors degrees at community colleges
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By Cowboy State Daily

The first three bills to be reviewed by Wyoming’s House on what was scheduled to be the last day of its 2019 general session did not fare well on Wednesday.

Bills addressing Medicaid eligibility, the payment of sales tax on large construction projects and the role of the state Select Committee on School Facilities in construction projects all died in their third and final reading on the House floor.

However, a bill designed to encourage students to pursue technical courses at the state’s community colleges was approved, as was a bill that would allow community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees in applied science.

The Legislature scheduled itself to end its session on Wednesday. Legislators spent much of the day addressing Gov. Mark Gordon’s veto of 14 footnotes to the supplemental budget.

The House was the only chamber with regular business left to address — eight bills on third and final reading.

But SF 103, 114 and 144 all died on their final votes.

SF 144 would impose requirements for those receiving Medicaid assistance to either work, attend school or complete volunteer duty. The bill, which died on a vote of 39-20, would have exempted those with serious medical problems from the requirement.

SF 103 would have expanded the role of the Select Committee on School Facilities to oversee community college and state capital construction projects. It died on a vote of 51-8.

SF 114 would have allowed companies building industrial facilities to work out contracts for the payment of sales and use taxes on those facilities over 20 years. It was killed in a vote of 33-25.

However, in a session that ran well past 7 p.m., representatives approved SF 111, a bill that would let community colleges offer bachelor’s degrees in applied science, approving the measure on a vote of 51-8.

Also approved was SF 122, a bill that would provide grants for students wishing to pursue technical programs at community colleges. Dubbed the “Wyoming Works Program,” it would also provide funding for community colleges to offer such programs. Students would not be required to have a high school diploma to take part in the program.

SF 134, a bill that would provide exemptions for some oil and natural gas production from wells that had been shut down and then restarted, was also approved.

Senate kills lodging tax bill

in News/Taxes/Tourism
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By Cowboy State Daily (updated Feb. 25, 2019 at 7PM)

A measure that would have imposed a statewide 5 percent tax on hotel and motel stays was killed by the Senate on Monday.

Senators voted 19-7 against HB 66, a measure seen as a way to finance the state Tourism Division without dipping into the state’s main bank account.

The bill would impose a 5 percent lodging tax across the state. Money from  percent of the tax — estimated at $19 million a year — would have been used to pay for the activities of the state Tourism Division. The division would have received no more money from the state’s main bank account, called the “General Fund.”

The money from the other 2 percent of the tax would have gone to counties to replace tax income lost when their local lodging taxes expired.

Supporters promoted the statewide tax as a way to collect money from visitors to Wyoming to pay for tourism promotion. But opponents questioned the cost the tax would add to the expense of a hotel or motel stay.

Income tax, party switching dead, lodging tax alive

in News/Taxes/Criminal justice
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By Cowboy State Daily

The last of three bills that would have put restrictions on when voters can change party affiliations was among a number to die this week as the Legislature neared the end of its general session.

Legislators looking to wrap up their general session by Wednesday put in long hour this week finishing their work on a number of bills, eliminating several controversial measures.

HB 106 was the last of three bills that would have set time limits for people to change party affiliation. It would have set a deadline of May 1 for such changes. It was defeated in a 14-11 vote in its first Senate review.

Another bill killed would have imposed an income tax on large retail companies headquartered outside of Wyoming. HB 220 died without getting a review in a Senate committee.

Moving ahead, however, was a bill that would set a statewide lodging tax of 5 percent. HB 66 is set for a final vote in the Senate on Monday.

Approved with significant changes by the Senate was a bill originally designed to create a felony crime for animal abuse. HB 235 was amended to remove all language about the felony crime.

Lodging tax bill moves forward in Senate

in News/Taxes
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By Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would impose a statewide 5 percent tax on hotel and motel stays was approved in its first Senate review on Thursday.

HB 66 is set to receive a second reading Friday after senators voted 16-11 to approve it during the Senate’s “Committee of the Whole,” the full body’s first chance to review the bill.

If approved, the bill would require that money from 3 percent of the tax — about $19 million a year — go to the state Tourism Division. The division would no longer receive money from the state’s “General Fund,” its main bank account

Money from the other 2 percent would go to counties to replace income from their own lodging taxes when they expire.

Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, tried with an amendment to eliminate the extra 2 percent tax, saying that would make hotel stays too expensive for in-state travelers.

“It’s just making it more expensive to stay around Wyoming,” he said.

But Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, successfully urged the Senate to kill Case’s amendment, arguing local communities should be provided with a steady source of income to promote themselves.

“That allows for local communities to have a little bit of leverage,” he said. “Let’s give it to them.”

Senator says discussion of Wyoming’s tax structure must continue

in News/Taxes
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By Cowboy State Daily

Attempts to change Wyoming’s tax structure must continue despite the defeat of a bill that would have created a corporate income tax, according to a legislative leader.

HB 220, called the “National Retail Fairness Act,” would have imposed an income tax on corporations such as large retailers that do business in Wyoming but have their headquarters in other states. 

But the measure encountered significant opposition and the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee declined to review the bill before a Wednesday deadline for committees to finish their work.

Committee Chair Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, said he never brought the bill up because there was very little chance for it to win Senate approval.

Landen said discussions of how to change Wyoming’s tax structure must continue, even though many ideas raised will not be popular.

“That’s going to be difficult every single time we bring a bill like this one because everybody believes in that, they just don’t want it done in their backyard,” he said.

Backers of the bill in the House, where the bill was approved by a vote of 44-14, said it would have given the state a tool to get its share of the taxes already built into the cost of products.

“I thought it was a good tool for Wyoming to get some of the money from the big box stores that they’re already scheduled to pay,” said Rep. Bunky Loucks, R-Casper. “And they don’t really participate in the tax base of our state.”

In Brief: Corporate income tax bill dies without committee review

in News/Taxes
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By Cowboy State Daily

A plan to impose an income tax on large companies that do business in Wyoming but are headquartered elsewhere died in a Senate committee on Tuesday.

HB 220, referred to as the National Retail Fairness Act, was not considered before a deadline for the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee to finish its work on bills.

For any bills to be considered in the Senate, they have to be reported out of committee by Wednesday. Although the bill was on the Corporations Committee’s schedule for consideration Tuesday, it was not brought up before the end of business The Corporations Committee is not scheduled to meet again before the deadline.

The bill had been seen as a way for Wyoming to tap into a revenue source from large retailers. Supporters argued that such retailers build in the cost of income tax in other states into their prices and then do not discount those prices in states that do not have an income tax — such as Wyoming. The corporate income tax was seen as a way to collect the tax that was not being paid to the state.

Updated: Lodging tax bill narrowly clears committee

in News/Taxes/Tourism
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By Cowboy State Daily

A measure that would impose a statewide tax on all hotel and motel stays is headed for the Senate floor after clearing a committee on Tuesday.

HB 66, which would impose a statewide 5 percent lodging tax, won approval on a 3-1 vote from the Senate Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee. The bill now heads to the Senate floor for review by the full body.

Money from 3 percent of the tax — estimated at $19 million per year — would go to the state Tourism Division to finance its operations. The division would no longer receive funds from the state’s main banking account, the General Fund.

Revenue from the other 2 percent would be sent to communities to replace local lodging taxes when they expire.

The bill’s committee approval was welcomed by members of the tourism industry, who said Wyoming needs all the financial help it can get to lure visitors to the state.

“Montana, Colorado, Utah, they outspend us by almost double in some instances and tourism is a competitive business,” said Chris Brown, director of the Wyoming Restaurant and Lodging Association. “We’re just looking to grow our slice of the pie for Wyoming’s visitor economy.”

Committee member Sen. Lisa Anselmi-Dalton, D-Rock Springs, declared a conflict and did not vote on the bill because she owns a hotel in Rock Springs.

Anselmi-Dalton also said she is not a supporter of the tax because of the burden it puts on business owners.

“It’s a pretty heavy lift for some people,” she said. “When I put things out to bid at my hotel, (clients) say ‘This is my budget’ and I end up eating the tax.”

The vote came as legislators approached a deadline to address the bills in front of their committees. All committee work must be completed by Wednesday.


Bonus plan for investment pros good way to build team, Meier says

in News/Taxes
Interview with Wyoming State Treasurer Curt Meier
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A plan to reward the state’s investment officials for good decisions will help the state build and maintain a team of skilled investment professionals, according to state Treasurer Curt Meier.

Meier, in an interview with Cowboy State Daily, said Friday the plan put forward by HB 222 would encourage smarter investments of state money, which in turn could help the state weather the fluctuations in energy prices.

“We need to attract and maintain a great team of investment people for the state of Wyoming,” he said. “If we can do our just to get (investment returns) to the median of what other states are doing, we can fix the budget crisis in our state.”

HB 222, which is awaiting the signature of Gov. Mark Gordon to become law, would reward investment professionals with a bonus equal to a percentage of their salaries if their investments exceed certain market benchmarks.

The bonus size would fluctuate based on the investment professional’s position. For instance, the state’s top investment officer, Patrick Fleming, could double his salary of $250,000 for good performance.

The bonuses would be paid out over three years to encourage investors to remain with the state. If they left state employment before the end of the three-year period, they would forfeit the remainder of their bonuses.

“We don’t want people to get into the hit and run attitude,” Meier said. You can have somebody … run way out on the risk cycle just to get his bonus and pick up his check and leave.” The arrangement will also help encourage investment officers to make prudent decisions so they are not fired, Meier said.

Good investment officers look not only at returns, Meier said, but the risks involved. For instance, he noted some corporation in recent years have been borrowing money so they could buy back their own stock.

“You have to figure out what those underlying things are that aren’t apparent to everyone,” he said. “You have to get the right people to do the right study, the right analysis. It’s not just the returns, it’s the risk-balanced returns.”

The bonus plan could eventually allow the state to reduce the fees it pays to investment firms, now estimated at $60 million to $80 million a year, Meier said, by increasing the number of talented investment professionals inside the state.

“We’re probably in the bottom 2 percent of what people are paid (nationally),” he said. “That’s why we’re trying to build the team with in-state people. We’re trying to grow our own here. Because it’s har to get somebody from outside who doesn’t like the bright lights and big city.”

Wyoming Legislature: Where they are

in News/Taxes/Education
Wyoming Legislature bill analysis where they are
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By Cowboy State Daily

Here is a look at the status of some of the bills being considered by Wyoming’s Legislature during its general session:

  • HB 14 — Creating the “Mountain Daylight Savings Time” zone for Wyoming. Defeated in Senate “Committee of the Whole.”
  • HB 38 — Raising legislative expense reimbursements from $109 per day to $149. Awaiting governor’s signature.
  • HB 52 — Giving preference to Wyoming-made products in furnishing state buildings. Awaiting governor’s signature.
  • HB 66 — Setting a statewide lodging tax of 5 percent. Introduced in Senate, referred to Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee.
  • HB 71 — Raising the penalty for violating equal pay rules to $500 per day. Awaiting governor’s signature.
  • HB 140 — Imposing a 48-hour waiting period to perform abortions. No action will be taken in Senate committee before the end of session.
  • HB 145 — Eliminating the death penalty. Killed in Senate “Committee of the Whole.”
  • HB 192 — Requiring photo ID to vote. Killed on third reading in House.
  • HB 220 — Imposing an income tax on out-of-state companies with business locations in Wyoming. Introduced in Senate, referred to Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Comittee.
  • HB 251 — Authorizing Wyoming to sue the state of Washington over it refusal to allow the construction of a coal port. Introduced in Senate, referred to Senate Minerals Committee.
  • HJ 1 — Asking the federal government to delist the grizzly bear. Awaiting governor’s signature.
  • SF 46 — Limiting the length of a prescription of opioids to 14 days. Introduced by House, referred to Labor, Health and Social Services Committee.
  • SF 57 — Setting a deadline for the release of public documents by government agencies. Approved on second reading in House.
  • SF 119 — Making all expenditures by the state auditor’s office public and available for review. Introduced in House, referred to House Appropriations Committee.
  • SF 129 — Repealing requirements for reports from the state Department of Education. Joint conference committee appointed to resolve House and Senate differences.
  • SF 148 — Allowing the state to seize and operate federal facilities — including national parks — under certain conditions. Killed in House Minerals Committee.
  • SF 149 — Creating a “Capitol Complex” around the state Capitol and giving the state building commission authority for planning in the area. Approved by House Rules Committee.
  • SF 160 — Requiring changes in voter party affiliation to take place two weeks before absentee ballots are distributed. Introduced in House, referred to House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee.
  • SJ 3 — Declaring Dec. 10, 2019, as Wyoming Women’s Suffrage Day. Signed into law by governor.

Representative seeks cut in coal taxes

in News/Taxes
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By Cowboy State Daily

A state representative is trying to bring coal taxes more in line with those assessed against oil and gas.

Rep. Tim Hallinan, R-Gillette, is proposing a cut in coal severance taxes from 7 percent to 6.5 percent, a reduction he said was warranted given the fact the coal industry has paid the state almost $1.2 billion in taxes in the last five years.

Hallinan said a 6.5 percent tax rate would bring coal closer to the 6 percent severance tax assessed on oil and gas.

“I saw this a an equity issue and a way we could strengthen the coal industry in my community,” he said.

The reduction would cut Wyoming’s severance tax income by an estimated $13.5 million per year, according to Legislative Service Office estimates.

Hallinan’s bill, HB 167, is awaiting a review from the House Revenue Committee.

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