CHEYENNE — While the 2013 Wyoming Legislature is off to a controversial start, so far the controversies only affect business tangentially.
Bills changing the role of the superintendent of public instruction and attempting to nullify potential federal gun regulation are getting a lot of attention in the first week of the 40-day general session that began Tuesday.
Business leaders, however, said they are hopeful that several bills enhancing economic development opportunities will survive.
Some decisions important to business may not receive much attention at all.
For example, Gov. Matt Mead is proposing a $25 million increase for local government infrastructure and $20 million to for solid waste transfer stations and landfill closing programs.
The Republican governor’s proposals are supported by the Wyoming Economic Development Association as critical to business development. But they will be debated by the Joint Appropriations Committee and its decision will be presented to the House and Senate within the bill that makes adjustments to the state’s two-year $3.5 billion budget.
The Cowboy State is dependent on taxes on fossil fuel extraction for most of its revenue and that is expected to remain flat in the foreseeable future.
Decreasing demand for coal and increased competition and low prices for natural gas have decreased revenue.
“There are so many new people” in the legislature, said Lynn Birleffi, a business lobbyist, that those supporting business legislation have to be careful to start with basics.
Birleffi and Scott Sutherland, of the WEDA legislative committee, said at a conference this week that so far the Appropriations Committee appears supportive.
Mead’s budget adjustments average about a 6.5 percent reduction in spending across all state agencies. Birleffi said so far proposed budget cuts to the Wyoming Business Council will not affect Business Ready Community Block Grants and other important programs the agency uses for business development.
Sutherland added that Workforce Development Training Fund Grants are “absolutely vital to us.” So far the governor has proposed continuation of the funding and the Appropriations Committee has not objected.
Wyoming has few direct monetary incentives to offer to businesses considering locating in the state because taxes are already among the lowest in the nation and limits within the state Constitution.
Sutherland said another important bill, Senate File 24, to help lower interest rates offered through the Partnership Loan Program, is also important for business development because of the lack of incentives. That bill passed a committee and is expected to go to the Senate floor where it must survive three readings to move on to the House for consideration.
A controversial 10-cents a gallon rise in fuel taxes to fund roads, House Bill 69, has been referred to the House Revenue Committee for review. WEDA and other business groups have expressed support for that tax, saying infrastructure repair to highways is critical to business growth in Wyoming.
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