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Senator Eli Bebout

Eli Bebout: Powder River Basin Resource Council’s Goal is to Kill Minerals Industry

in Column/Eli Bebout
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Guest column by State Sen. Eli Bebout (R-Riverton)

We want to teach our children to think critically and evaluate sources when reading “facts” on the internet or anywhere else. This is a response to the recent opinion piece written by Wayne Lax, a board member of the Powder River Basin Resource Council (PRBRC), published in two Wyoming newspapers.

The Powder River Basin Resource Council is an organization which loudly proclaims that it is a Wyoming grassroots advocacy group, yet most of its resources come from out-of-state organizations with one agenda: to eradicate extractive industries such as coal, oil and natural gas.

I urge readers to review the PRBRC filings with the Internal Revenue Service.

It does have members from Wyoming, and a largely Wyoming-based board, but approximately 95% of its funding comes from these out-of-state organizations:  Western Organization of Resources Councils (WORC), Montana; The New World Foundation, New York; The NEO Philanthropy, Inc., New York; The Bloomberg Family Foundation, New York; The JPB Foundation, New York, and the Proteus Fund, Amherst, Massachusetts.    

The PRBRC and its spokesman Lax see issues in Wyoming through that lens and represents the agenda of these organizations – to kill energy production and jobs in Wyoming.

Those of us in the Legislature are working to preserve and diversify our economy, and support Wyoming jobs in our energy sector, which contributes more than half of Wyoming’s biennial budget.

Meanwhile Michael Bloomberg and George Soros, who fund WORC and PRBRC, are seeking to reduce Wyoming’s mineral industry and its jobs.

As one of the legislators that the PRBRC charges with bias and giving away state resources to the oil and gas industry, let me hold a different lens to some of his statements.

First, Lax’s comment: “Wyomingites have long supported the oil and gas industry” – in fact, a truer statement is that the oil and gas industry has long supported the state of Wyoming through severance and property taxes and jobs.  

Another of the points of PRBRC’s editorial charges the Wyoming legislature with allowing oil and gas companies to “loot money from current and future Wyomingites” as well as dodge financial and regulatory obligations using the pandemic as an excuse.

This is a cruel assertion, given the effects of Covid-19 to our State, the nation, and our citizens, in serious illness, deaths, loss of jobs, and resulting disastrous effects on small businesses.  

Since the coronavirus wasn’t even recognized as a serious threat in Wyoming until mid-March, long after the legislature had adjourned, how could we have even considered something so ridiculous and awful? 

It is true that the Wyoming legislature approved a 2% severance tax reduction for new oil and gas wells, so long as the price of oil is below $50 per barrel for oil and below $2.95 per1,000 cubic feet of gas.

This tax reduction was approved, not to give a bigger break to oil and gas companies, but to encourage more drilling, more production and more jobs in Wyoming during tough times.

The Legislature is not alone in encouraging more activity, even amid this crisis and the financial uncertainty, Wyoming small businesses are offering discounts to oil and gas companies as a good faith effort to keep our economy going.  

In regard to PRBRC’s statement that many bankrupt oil and gas companies are giving golden parachutes to company executives and the Legislature is allowing them to leave obligations to the state unpaid.

Let me remind the PRBRC that the Wyoming Legislature has absolutely no control over how companies manage “exit strategies” and many companies, in an attempt to reduce their payroll and reorganize under bankruptcy filings, give early retirement incentives to employees.

While we think other unpaid expense should have priority, this is a common fiscal strategy to improve the bottom line. In many instances, Wyoming would be ahead if those companies could reduce payroll and reorganize rather than go out of business completely.  

Needless to say, this is a difficult time for all energy companies big and small as the oil and gas sell-off between Russia and OPEC created a huge glut with a resulting precipitous drop in the price of oil, and then the demand also dropped drastically because of the nationwide shutdown and travel restrictions.

All of our oil and gas producers are experiencing a critical decline in prices, profits and cash flow. Had the Wyoming Legislature known what was coming, we might have done more to encourage and stabilize oil and gas production in Wyoming.  

I can’t speak for all legislators, but from my point of view as a legislator, a lifetime resident of Wyoming, and a business person who is part-owner of an oil and gas drilling company, we need to develop our state’s resources responsibly, and with local jobs and our state’s economy top of mind.

Will the PRBRC pay the bill for education, correctional facilities and other state agencies? No.   

Even though they reap hundreds of thousands of dollars from out-of-state organizations every year, they are not taxed on their income, either by the State or our federal government and only mobilize their tax-free income to fight Wyoming jobs.

So, Lax is not considering a tax of any kind on PRBRC, just to be clear. But the PRBRC’s out-of-state funded, job-killing activities can take a toll on Wyoming’s economy and jobs.

Let’s stop the negative assertions about our Wyoming legislature and look for ways all of us can work together as Wyoming citizens to sustain our state’s industries – oil and gas, coal, minerals, agriculture, tourism, ranching, technology, and small businesses – in creative, responsible and productive ways. We are all ears, Mister Lax.

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Capitol’s new furniture might not be delivered until after 2020 Budget Session

in Government spending/News
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Months after Wyoming hosted a grand reopening of the state Capitol building, legislative and executive staffers are still working with folding tables and temporary furniture.

During a Capitol Building Restoration Oversight Group meeting Nov. 15, group members voted to rework a Request For Proposal (RFP), which could provide furnishings for the newly renovated building. 

Oversight Group member Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, said the group originally hoped to see the Capitol furnished prior to the 2020 Budget Session. But reworking the proposal could prevent that goal. 

“We’ve had several issues that have arisen out of our original RFPs,” Bebout explained. “We specced this RFP to a certain greater quality, but the manufacturer that could meet those specs went out of business.”

Additionally, he said the group wanted to ensure Wyoming furniture suppliers had an opportunity to bid on the reworked proposal. 

“The original RFP went out about 3-4 months ago,” Bebout said. “It’s a long RFP, because it gets into the specifics.”

Bebout did not have the specifics on hand at the time of his interview, but instead, directed Cowboy State Daily to the Wyoming State Construction Department for details regarding the furniture RFP.

Construction Department spokesperson Travis Hoff said the agency declined to comment on the RFP details, process, amendments or creation, because the document was being reviewed by the Wyoming Attorney General’s office. 

In an email, Hoff provided the state statute used to create the RFP, which specifies that the agency issuing an RFP can ask for certain specifications or products. However, the law also states if the specified product is not available to “responsible Wyoming resident suppliers,” that fact cannot be used as a reason to prevent Wyoming vendors from submitting bids.

Hoff also confirmed some staffers were currently working in the Capitol on temporary furniture, and while no agencies were still renting space outside state-owned buildings, some had yet to move into the Capitol.

Wyoming Legislative Service Office Director Matt Obrecht said his staff moved into the building earlier this summer.

“We’re working on folding tables and have been since June,” Obrecht said.

Bebout said he wasn’t fond of the situation, but he didn’t place the blame at anyone’s feet. 

“I thought we would probably have it done before the budget session, but there’s really nobody to blame,” he said. “If we don’t get (new furniture) by the time the budget session starts, then we’ll use the old furniture and make it work.”

State long-term debt is real issue of concern, legislators say

in Government spending/News
2319

By Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s short-term revenue and budget problems are not as concerning as the state’s long-term deficit, according to two members of the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, the committee’s chairman, and Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, said the Legislature needs to address the fact that for several years, state spending has exceeded income, with the difference being made up through a combination of spending cuts and the use of money from various savings accounts.

Gierau said the state has already made significant reductions in spending to address what is called the “structural deficits.”

“A lot of folks need to realize that … we have less employees in state government than we had eight years ago,” he said. “Government is smaller. Programs are smaller.”

While the state could use about $1.6 billion from its reserve accounts to resolve the issue on a short-term basis, the action would deplete those accounts and the outlook to replace that money is not good.

“Over the next five years, with declining revenues, those ‘rainy day’ funds are anticipated to start to shrink if we keep spending at the same levels,” Gierau said. “And we won’t have money, given our current revenue picture … to replace them.”

The decline in mineral revenue has had a significant impact on the state’s revenues and the Legislature will have to look seriously at some action to deal with issue on a long-term basis, Bebout said.

“The challenge is to not just kick the can down the road,” he said. “I think we need to start making progress on our future to deal with our structural deficit.”

Specifically, the state needs to make plans for the day when mineral revenues no longer contribute a large amount to the state’s income, Bebout said.

“The revenue stream and the way we generate revenue is changing,” he said. “Minerals will not be able to carry the load like they have in the past. We need to be prepared for that and start moving in that direction.”

Several legislative committees are looking at ways to boost the state’s income, including the creation of a statewide lodging tax, an increase in gas taxes, a possible increase in property taxes and a corporate income tax.

Over half of the anticipated deficit spending — $250 million — can be traced to education funding and a legislative committee recently approved a $19 million increase in education spending to account for inflation. Legislators argued the increase must be approved to comply with Wyoming Supreme Court orders regarding school financing.

Bebout said he disagreed with such mandates being handed down by the court and said education spending should be determined by elected officials.

“Quite frankly, I’m tired of the courts dictating how we spend money on education,” he said. “I think it should be up to elected officials, i.e., the Legislature to make those decisions. If you don’t like what we do, you vote us out, rather than have the court tell us what to do.”

Appropriations members say budget difference just part of the process

in News
884

By Cowboy State Daily

Differences between the House and Senate over the proposed supplemental budget are just part of the legislative process and center largely on what constitutes necessary spending, two members of the Joint Appropriations Committee said Thursday.

Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Tom Walters, R-Casper, agreed that the two bodies will bridge the $70 million gap between the House and Senate versions of the budget.

“Being the wonderful process that it is, we’ll get together and figure out our differences and in the next couple of weeks we’ll have a good supplemental budget that Wyoming can be proud of,” Walters said.

The Legislature approves a two-year budget during even-numbered years. The supplemental budget is a mechanism to provide funding for needs that may arise between the Legislature’s budget session. The supplemental budget submitted this year to the Legislature by the Joint Appropriations Committee outlines spending from the state’s main bank account or “General Fund” of $119 million.

The House and Senate finished their independent reviews of the budget this week. The House added $51 million in spending, while the Senate cut $19 million. The Senate is now reviewing the House changes to the budget while the House is reviewing the Senate version. A “conference committee” will later be appointed to reach a compromise between the two versions.

Bebout said many in the Senate consider the supplemental budget a way to pay for emergencies.

“So I felt we ought to deal with emergencies and as we worked through the budget, that’s where the House had differences from the Senate,” he said. “That’s the process. We talk about it, we debate, you take the vote…”

Part of the difference between the two bodies stems from education funding. The House increased the “external cost adjustment” for schools — an amount designed to help ease the impact of inflation on schools — by $21 million. The Senate cut the amount by $9 million.

Another difference is a software upgrade proposed for in Department of Revenue. The House added $15 million to JAC’s recommendation, while the Senate cut it by $5 million.

“Quite frankly, I didn’t think a lot of the things we brought up as we worked through the process … in the House vs. the Senate, that we had $52 million in additional spending that we needed,” Bebout said. “I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have some, but I felt that was more than I was willing to accept.”

Bill funding construction projects dies in Senate

in News
880

By Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would finance capital construction projects around the state died unanimously in the Senate.

SF 162 provided more than $50 million in state funding for various projects, including $7.3 million for renovations in buildings at Laramie County Community College, $3 million for a new dormitory at Northwest Community College in Powell and $2 million for an agriculture and equine center at Casper College.

The bill was killed on a vote of 30-0 in the Senate on Tuesday. 

Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, said give the state’s financial problems, senators did not feel approving the projects would be prudent.

“To spend another $51 million on capital construction when we have these deficits and you look ahead to the next biennial budget, there’s a $350 million deficit in K-12 (education), it’s just not the right message to send,” he said.

The bill could resurface in another form later in the session. For instance, it could theoretically be attached as an amendment to the supplemental budget bills making their way through the Legislature.

The House or Senate could also amend their rules to introduce a new version of the bill. The Senate changed its rules Wednesday to introduce four new state spending bills.

One bill, SF 163, called for spending $15 million to support commercial air service in Wyoming. 

Another, SF 165, would set aside $15 million for Department of Health programs and $5 million for the Department of Family Services. The amounts would be used to support programs recommended by former Gov. Matt Mead in his proposed supplemental budget.

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