Wyoming Legislature updates – Jan. 16-19, 2017
by Albert Sommers, House District #20 Representative
January 20, 2017
Thursday, January 19, 2017:
Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Sommers reporting to you from Cheyenne on the 19th. Today, on final reading, House Joint Resolution #2 passed the House. This bill petitions Congress to call for an Article 5 constitutional convention of states to propose a balanced budget amendment to the US Constitution. I remain concerned about the out-of-state lobby money that has been thrown in support of this issue, and I see no reason to call for a constitutional convention. I worry about the ramifications of a convention, and the pressure that would be applied to delegates of a convention, by special interests. We need improved results in Congress, but this is not the route.
Today in Committee of the Whole, we heard HB54, which would have redefined the tax classification structure for agricultural land to include smaller parcels where Ag products are raised. However, the bill wasn’t structured correctly, and had some serious unintended consequences. I ended up voting against the bill, it died, but I support the concept of giving folks who produce a significant Ag crop on a small parcel access to the Ag tax rate.
House Bill 131 passed COW today, and it redistributes lottery money to local governments proportionate to the sale of lottery tickets in those counties. It also cuts out the permanent school account from obtaining any lottery money. I voted against the bill, because it broke the grand bargain when the lottery was formed, which split lottery money between local government and education. The lottery brings in very little money to the State of Wyoming, and really only monetarily benefits those businesses that sell the tickets and those citizens who enjoy the lottery.
Goodnight for now.
Wednesday, January 18, 2017:
Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Sommers reporting to you from Cheyenne on Wednesday, January 18. Today in the Committee of the Whole we heard bills that would help fund shortfalls in State Parks, and two of them passed. One that failed would have allowed State Parks to keep the interest earned off accounts it manages for different programs. Currently, interest on those accounts goes to fund the general appropriations of the state, but I agree with the bill that interest should remain in those State Parks’ accounts. State parks need improvement, and this would have been an easy way to support the program, in a very limited way. We also passed bills out of Committee of the Whole that dealt with student data privacy, investment of public funds, and limitations on delegates to a potential Article 5 convention.
In Appropriations we started markup of the budget bill, where we actually approve or amend the Governor’s recommendations on the budget. We continue to look at bills and budget moves to take Wyoming Department of Transportation off the General Fund budget, and allow WYDOT a higher fee structure. We also cut positions in the State Engineer’s office, as we moved half that budget from the General Fund to Water Development Funds, which have their own revenue sources. In Department of Health we reduced the Governor’s cuts to the developmentally disabled, community mental health providers, and to DD pre-schools. I suspect some of those cuts will be reinstated later in the budget’s development, but this demonstrates how hard it is to cut services to Wyoming’s most disadvantaged citizens. Good night for now.
Tuesday, January 17, 2017:
Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Sommers reporting to you from Cheyenne on Tuesday, January 17. Today in Committee of the Whole, an "Old Friend" returned to the House in the form of House Joint Resolution #2.This joint resolution petitions Congress to call an Article 5 convention to propose amendments to the Constitution of the United States requiring a balanced federal budget. This is always one of the great debates during the session, and in past sessions it has failed.
I support a balanced federal budget, if done the right way, and with some common sense. Though there is little common sense in Washington. The opponents of this bill worry that if a constitutional convention were ever to occur, it would result in a runaway convention, and we could lose our great constitution. I voted for this joint resolution in the Committee of the Whole, but have not decided my final vote.
There have been multiple out-of-state lobbyist organizations pushing for this amendment, and my question is why? I always like to follow the money, and when I asked one of these interest group representatives for a list of donors to his organization, he declined to provide it. Who is behind this effort, and what do they stand to gain from cracking open our constitution?
The Appropriations Committee continued to hear from agencies we still have questions for. We have looked at taking agencies that now receive money from the General Fund, and putting them back on their own dollars or from accounts they used before the good times. One of these is WYDOT. Can we increase fees, and then move WYDOT off the General Fund? Can we move the State Engineer’s Office to the water accounts of the Water Development Commission, without extensively impacting water projects?
All of these cuts and movements of money could impact Sublette County. We could be jeopardizing highway projects, local dam projects, and airports. Are the citizens of Wyoming willing to endure higher fees for state services in order to see them continue? There are no easy answers, and we haven’t even started the K12 funding conversation. Yikes.
I hope I didn’t miss your e-mails in the hundreds of e-mails I got on the upcoming UBER bill.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday, January 16, 2017:
Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Sommers reporting to you from Cheyenne on Monday, January 16. Today in Committee of the Whole we debated House Bill 19, which would require large out-of-state companies to collect Wyoming sales tax on goods purchased online. This bill would apply to companies that conduct more than $100,000 in business or have more than 200 transactions in a year. Currently, Wyoming-based businesses must collect this tax, and these large online companies do not. This puts Wyoming companies at a disadvantage. Why would we give large online companies a business exemption we don’t give our own companies?
I supported this bill in Committee of the Whole, even though its constitutionality has been questioned. In Wyoming we have a lot of tax exemptions, and in these difficult budgetary times, exemptions will need to be reviewed.
In the Appropriations Committee today, we worked a bill that would operationalize Amendment A, the constitutional amendment that allows the Wyoming State Treasurer to invest a percentage of specific trust funds, like the Wyoming Natural Resource Trust Fund, into a pooled account. This pooled account can then invest in higher-return instruments, like equities. We also worked a bill that would further refine the spending policies on our permanent mineral and school trust funds. In these hard economic times, we do not want to put income from these accounts into the corpus where it cannot be utilized. Both of these bills were very complicated, and we will continue to work on them another day.
In order to cut General Fund spending in the state of Wyoming, the Appropriations Committee is looking at funding some agencies in other ways, such as using more of their own funds or drawing from other accounts. This is similar to how things were done about ten years ago. We will look at moving both the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the Wyoming Livestock Board back onto their own fee budgets. This likely will result in higher brand inspection and hunter fees. We are also examining moving WYDOT and the State Engineer’s Office off General Fund appropriations. These options are being mulled over in an attempt to reduce what amounts to a $100 million structural deficit in Wyoming General Fund operations. I can be reached at email@example.com.