Public records worries

Senate sticks with flawed records bill

Budget launched; retirement fixes get mixed reviews

Uranium royalty rate nudged up by state lands board 

A public records bill originally aimed at improving public access to government records made it through second reading in the Senate Tuesday though it has been changed fundamentally and will restrict access to now-public records. The Wyoming Press Association, League of Women Voters, Powder River Basin Resource Council, and the Equality State Policy Center, organizations that supported the draft of Senate File 25 – Public records developed by the Joint Judiciary Committee last summer and fall. All now oppose its passage if the restrictive amendments are not removed. Star Valley Sen. Dan Dockstader made an effort to strip the offensive amendments Tuesday but he was rebuffed by his colleagues.

Budget bill launched

Both the Senate and the House took up the budget bills that will direct state spending for the 2013-14 biennium on Tuesday. House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosie Berger and Senate Appropriations Chairman Phil Nicholas led the explanations of the mirror bills in their respective chambers. Last December, the Joint Appropriations Committee demanded that agencies plan for budget cuts. Tuesday in the Senate, considerable concern was raised about steep rises expected in state employee health insurance premiums, Medicaid and other health care spending. Sen. Charles Scott, SD30, R-Casper, raised great concern about the future of Medicaid waiver programs that provide services to developmentally disabled children and adults. Nicholas said the Department of Health, the state agency with the largest budget, was directed to come up with a 4% reduction, although the Legislature will fully fund it in the first year of the biennium, Fiscal Year 2013, he said. Advocates for the state HIV treatment program have raised concerns that proposed cuts state funding for the program may put at risk federal funds appropriated under the Ryan White Act. Those federal funds largely have paid for the treatment of people unable to afford it otherwise.

Public employee retirement

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved SF 97 – Wyoming Retirement Act. It proposes changes to the public employee’s retirement system that will affect terms of service and calculation of benefits. Senate File 59 – Public employee retirement plans benefit increases would remove the authority now held by the Wyoming State Retirement System to award cost of living adjustments. It also imposes unrealistic actuarial parameters that require each pension plan to be funded at 120% before legislators could consider granting a COLA. In the past, the system has not paid a COLA unless the pension plan was funded at least at 100%. The ESPC opposes the changes proposed in SF59. The authority to manage the pension plans should remain with the experts at the retirement board.

Uranium royalties from School Trust lands

Not all the action in Cheyenne Tuesday was legislative. The Board of Land Commissioners met Tuesday morning and approved a new state lease form that imposes a slightly higher royalty rate on uranium extracted from state School Trust Lands. State Lands Director Ryan Lance proposed raising the rate 5%. Until yesterday, the state used a sliding scale, charging a 2.5% royalty rate if yellowcake sold under $20 per pound and 3% if rose to $26 or more. In his memo to the board, Lance wrote that the flat 5% rate “will provide the uranium industry in Wyoming with one of the lowest, if not the lowest current uranium lease royalty rate in the nation on State owned lands … “ The ESPC and the Wyoming PTA argued for a sliding scale that would raise the rate if prices, now around $52 a pound for yellowcake, spike to $80. Secretary of State Max Maxfield proposed a lower rate – 4% – that passed on a 3-2 vote. Maxfield’s motion was supported by Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill and State Auditor Cynthia Cloud. Gov. Matt Mead and Treasurer Joe Meyer opposed the motion.

Comments are closed.