Archive | August, 2012

New severance tax needed to support state highways

Roads support Wyoming people and industries

Gas tax hike alone will not solve state road funding needs

Should Wyoming impose a new severance tax on mineral extraction to help maintain its highway system? The question was raised Aug. 23 by Senate Revenue Committee Chairman John Hines after the Legislature’s Joint Interim Revenue Committee voted to raise the state’s tax on gasoline and diesel fuel by 10 cents per gallon. The hike, expected to raise about $48.15 million a year for the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT), falls far short of generating the sums needed to maintain the state’s highway system. The department estimates that it needs additional state revenues of $134 million annually, about $85 million more than the higher gas tax will provide for the WYDOT. Altogether, the gas tax hike will generate nearly $72 million in additional revenues, but $16.77 million will go to the state’s 23 counties to maintain their roads and another $6.9 million will go to Wyoming cities and towns to maintain streets, according to figures from WYDOT. After the committee voted to impose the 10-cent gas tax hike on July 1, 2013, Hines said there has been talk of either earmarking revenues from the state’s severance tax collections or imposing a new severance tax to make up the difference. Rep. Mike Madden, HD40, R-Buffalo, agreed that severance taxes are needed to supplement state fuel tax revenues. Sen. Cale Case, SD25, R-Lander, also agreed and asked that legislation be drafted as “a placeholder” for committee consideration prior to the 2013 session. There’s a strong community of interest in maintaining Wyoming’s highways. Many groups, including the Wyoming Taxpayers Association, the Wyoming Trucking Association, the Wyoming Mining Association, Wyoming Friends of Pathways, the Wyoming County Commissioners Association, and the Wyoming Association of Municipalities, supported the fuel tax increase. All of them know the fuel tax can’t meet the need. And the Revenue Committee said it does not believe it can raise the tax enough to meet state needs. They pointed out that the increase in Wyoming’s tax to 24 cents per gallon of gasoline keeps the state in the market range of surrounding states. Montana’s gas tax is 27 cents per gallon. Earmarking existing revenues will either take funds from other state programs or will mean the state will reduce the amount of money going into its Permanent Mineral Trust Fund. The state should not reduce its commitment to future generations of Wyoming residents. So a new severance tax aimed specifically at addressing highway needs makes sense. The energy industry depends upon the state’s transportation system to move its people and equipment. We’ve all encountered fracking trucks, rigs being moved, and extra-wide trailers hauling gas plant equipment or pipeline compressors while driving around the state. They’re big and we know all that weight wears out roads. Moreover, the fossil fuel industry has a stake in making certain that all those gas-driven or battery-powered cars of the future have good roads to run on. An investment in state roads simply represents an investment in the energy industry’s future. The new severance tax bill should be accompanied by legislation to generate more revenues from Wyoming’s wind resources, as well. The wind industry’s stake in our roads is just as significant as any other business’s interest. Wyoming originally imposed severance taxes to mitigate the impacts of energy and other minerals development and to capture the value of Wyoming’s mineral assets for future generations. That’s why we have a Permanent Mineral Trust Fund. The taxes have not been raised in years, and, in fact, the tax rate has declined for coal. It’s high time we started talking about the proper role of severance taxes once again. Dan Neal Equality State Policy Center
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Primary election

ESPC mobilizes vote

Volunteers canvas in eight communities

And WPR looks at why more women don’t run for the Legislature

Today is the Primary election and ESPC volunteers have canvassed low-income precincts across the state in the past week.

Pamela Garcia of CORAJE prepares to canvas in Torrington

They’re carried the message “Your Vote is Your Voice” to potential voters in Cheyenne, Rawlins, Rock Springs, Fort Washakie, Ethete, Arapahoe and Beaver Creek. Groups such as CORAJE in Torrington, TRIBE in Rock Springs, RezAction on the Wind River Reservation, and volunteers in Cheyenne and Rawlins have knocked more than 3,650 doors to explain to people how to register at the polls and to urge them to vote today. It’s one of the ESPC’s major efforts to encourage Wyoming citizens to participate in civic affairs to make their concerns heard in policy debates around the state. More people need to join the state’s policy circles, particularly women. But in Wyoming, few women run for the Legislature, in part because it is so difficult for women with children to serve the public and know that their children’s needs are well met. This year 28 women candidates filed to run, three for the Senate and 25 for the House. There are roughly three times as many men running for the Legislature. So if women make up half the population, why don’t more run? There are plenty of reasons but many center around being the primary caregiver for their children. It is very difficult to meet those responsibilities in part because there is not sufficient institutional support for women who would like to serve. Wyoming Public Radio (WPR) put together an excellent story about the situation that aired Aug. 17 on its “Open Spaces” program.  
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Sheridan Town Hall on public pension system

Sheridan Town Hall on pensions draws 60

Fire fighter, others speak up for public pensions

System director says many levers ready to assure sustainability

Pensions managed by the Wyoming Retirement System promise stability to our teachers, fire fighters, police, nurses, and the many other people who devote their careers to public service in Wyoming. Wyoming’s system is healthy, especially in comparison to public systems in other states that have been under-funded or where funds were borrowed to support other programs. Nevertheless, Wyoming’s public pension system was the subject of considerable legislative effort in the 2012 Budget session, work that was carried over in the interim work of the Joint Appropriations Committee. During the Budget session, supporters of the system fended off a proposed bill that would have closed the existing defined benefit system and replaced it with a defined contribution plan. Other legislation did bring changes to the system. The Legislature imposed very conservative standards that for the forseeable future mean retirees will not see any cost of living adjustments to their monthly benefit. Tuesday night in Sheridan, some 65 people attended a town hall meeting sponsored by the Coalition for a Healthy

George Neeson, Sheridan fire fighter

Retirement System at Sheridan College. They heard from Sheridan fire fighter George Neeson, who said that benefit helped him to decide to stick with the Sheridan fire department rather than seeking higher paying work in the oil patch. His job with the city promises a reliable monthly benefit on which he and his family can plan for their retirement years. Wyoming Retirement System Director Thom Williams outlined the basic aspects of the system and pointed out the many “levers” system managers can use to ensure its long-term sustainability. Those levers include changes imposed by theLegislature that will reduce benefits to employees hired after Sept.1, 2012. He noted the system managers can call for increased contributions from employees, as well. You can listen to a Sheridan Media report on the meeting by reporter Ron Richter by clicking here. The Equality State Policy Center and the Coalition for a Healthy Retirement System believe there are many reasons for supporting the defined benefit system used in Wyoming: * It promises stability with a reliable monthly income that the teachers who educated our children and the police and fire fighters who protected us can use to plan their family budgets. * Professional managers oversee investments – and those investments have paid 72% of all the benefits paid out since 1991. * Good pensions help recruit and retain highly qualified employees. A stable workforce enables schools, law enforcement, and other state agencies to deliver good service to the public. * Pension payments are an economic asset that keeps income flowing into the local economies where pensioners live. In 2011, the system paid nearly $300 million to Wyoming residents, benefits that rippled through their local communities. The Coalition for a Healthy Retirement System includes the Wyoming Education Association, the Wyoming Retired Education Personnel Association, the Wyoming Public Employees Association, the Federated Fire Fighters of Wyoming, AARP Wyoming, the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, the Wyoming Highway Patrol Association, the Wyoming State AFL-CIO, and the Equality State Policy Center.
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