Thursday, February 06, 2003


As I mentioned yesterday, I am paying particular attention to a couple of bills currently under consideration in the Wyoming State House, HB 264 and HB 302, both of which are intended to set aside a chunk of the state’s Permanent Mineral Trust Fund for helping communities become “business ready” in the current jargon.

Each bill creates a fund, to be administered by the Wyoming Business Council as a grant program to allow towns like ours to make significant investments in their own economic development on a physically tangible, brick-and-mortar basis, and it’s high time something like this was made a reality. I’ve been studying economic development almost since the day I came back to Wyoming, and the realities of it are harsh and inescapable: businesses who are seeking to relocate have been trained to expect facilities that are in “move-in” condition. If they have to wait around for something to be built... if they have to pay to have something built or renovated... if they have to go through the giant flaming hoops of permits and easements and utilities development themselves, they’re not going to come. They’ll go where this work and the financial burdens accompanying it have been done for them. And there are, dear readers, cities and counties and economic development corporations all over this company who have and will do it for them.

Our new governor, Dave Freudenthal, knows this all too well, which is why one of his significant campaign pledges – and yes, I’m talking about the very one which finally decided me to become a supporter – was the very program HB 264 and 302, in their slightly different ways, would implement.

So what’s the difference between these two bills?

The two significant issues are the amount of money to be set aside to start this program, and whether or not the towns and counties who will apply for grants under this program will be required to put up matching funds in order to secure the money.

Now, it’s not the amount that concerns me so terribly much – 302 has a dollar amount of $15 million, which is chapter and verse Governor Freudenthal’s original proposal, while 264 currently has only $5 million (I say currently because I know Rep. Latta and some of my other friends in Cheyenne are planning to submit an amendment to bump this figure up to $10 million) – although I would naturally be happy to see more money in the original pot because that just means there’s an opportunity there to help more communities. Saratoga has taken a huge hit this year, but there are lots of other towns in Wyoming who are facing hard times because of the drought, the brain drain, the Forest Plan, etc.

But this matching issue is a bad, bad deal, folks.

Think back to two years ago, when you were hearing a lot of your local elected officials and other cranks complaining about a little thing called legislative de-earmarking.

See, before the year 2000, a certain percentage of state mineral royalties, gasoline taxes, etc. was earmarked for local governments, to help equalize those local governments’ abilities to deliver basic services to the residents they serve. Every single town in Wyoming has a basic responsibility to its citizens by state law, custom, and the Social Contract, to provide things like potable water, sewer, police and fire protection, emergency medical care, safe streets and bridges, etc. And there are bottom-line, fixed costs associated with these whether a town is serving 2000 or 10,000 people.

But all local governments are not created equal when it comes to their abilities to raise the revenue needed to pay for all of this stuff. Different towns, different counties, have different property values (on which property taxes/mill levies are based), different ways of digging money out of the ground (Campbell County is sitting on all that CBM; Goshen County... grows some cheap crops), different visitor bases and different business communities, which means different levels of sales tax income.

Enter earmarking, a way for the State of Wyoming, which is bringing in significant revenue from all over the state, to help level the playing field and make sure that everyone gets the basics no matter where in Wyoming he or she lives.

But in 2000, the Wyoming State Legislature were looking at about a $125 million shortfall (largely because of severence tax reductions they themselves had granted, and, too, because there wasn’t a lot of mineral auditing going on, something else GovDave is fixin’ to try and fix) and started looking around for what could be done about it. Cutting spending on state level stuff, of course, was not desirable to them. So they decided on de-earmarking those revenues that were supposed to be guaranteed to local governments and school districts.

[And, to soften the blow and delay its effects a little bit, they generously bestowed a one-time “rainy day” payment on each affected local government according to the size of the population served (Saratoga got a whopping $208,000)]

Now, de-earmarking didn’t out and out take that money away from local governments and school districts, it just removed the requirement that a certain portion of those revenues go there. If the legislature so chooses, it can still share that money with us, and it is, after a fashion, but...

Oh, there’s always a “but”!!!

But... now when we need money for a water project, or a building project, or to buy a new firetruck or ambulance, or whatever, we have to go begging to the state bureaucracies for it. Usually, we have to write grants. And usually, we have to put up matching funds in order to receive these grants.

Trickle, trickle, trickle.

Now, making matters worse, with an ever worsening economic climate (really, the only people in Wyoming who are doing well are the people who brought their own money from other states, and a few very well compensated minerals workers and the like. The rest of us are flipping burgers, running cash registers, and ranting on web pages because we can’t afford the paper and printing costs to become real pamphleteers) most of the cities and towns already hurting and reeling from this also received another blow when the 2000 census figures came in.

Saratoga, for example, lost nearly 300 people between 1990 and 2000.

And remember, our share of state and county sales tax, fuel taxes, cigarette taxes, etc. is based on, yes, population.

So those revenues are going down, down, down, too.

(And we’re not even in the same league as poor Riverside, down something in the neighborhood of 33% of its population, but still trying to run the same basic infrastructure it did when there were officially more than 80 residents!)

So, dear readers, especially those of you who are or are personally acquainted with Wyoming legislators, how the hell are we supposed to come up with even more matching funds, when the communities who need the help proposed by HB264 and HB302 most are the ones who are also feeling de-earmarking and population loss the most?

Longtime LIANT readers know what’s coming next. A call to action.

My sources tell me that HB264 is due to come to the House floor either today (Thursday) or tomorrow (Friday). Rep. Latta, as I said, is going to propose amendments to make it more effective and worthwhile. Folks, support for these amendments is needed.

I haven’t heard back from our own Representative, but Latta sounds pretty sure that Mr. Bucholz is with him on this.

But there are lots of other House members out there who need to hear from YOU, folks. The program these bills would create could be an important part of Saratoga’s effort to pull itself out of its current economic slump and begin recovering from our loss of the mill, but it ain’t going to happen without help.

HERE is the legislator e-mail list for the 2003-04 legislature. They all have computers now, and a lot of them have demonstrated to me over the last few days that they really do read their e-mail, and respond.

Send some messages their way, while there’s still time, folks.

If you don’t have time to bug all of them, here’s a few key people that need a little persuading on the matching issue (click on the name to send a message):

Pete Illoway

Fred Parady

Kurt Bucholz

Wednesday, February 05, 2003


...New features on the Wyoming State Legislature's web page. And they are newly cause for concern for Your Humble Blogger.

Just now, I was consulting this page to check up on a few bills in which I am interested (those being HB 264 and 302, which concern an effort to implement Governor Freudenthal's economic development idea of pulling $15 million out of the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund for a grant program to help Wyoming towns and cities improve their business development chances, about which, if I know me, and I do, more anon), I happened to notice that there is a whole new realm of presentation attached to the Bills Index.

I'm talking about those little old "Fiscal Notes" you can click on next to the other information about each bill.

These are prepared by the Department of Revenue (click on a Fiscal Note, any Fiscal note, and you can even see which bureaucrat did the analysis) and show that bureau's expert analysis on each bill's implications for the state government's finances. Looks pretty nifty, doesn't it? Might help that huge passel of freshman legislators, especially, make some better-informed decisions, mightn't it?

Ah, but as ever, the devil is in the details.

For example: There is a measure, House Bill 91, that would create a sales and use tax exemption for agricultural implements (i.e. tractors, balers, etc.), which even my dear friend the Oracle, who assures me on a daily basis that he is the most conservative person I know, supports heartily, as do I*

Take a look at HB91's Fiscal Note. It appears to show, in stark and scary terms, that if HB91 were passed the state would lose a little more than $1 million a year in sales and use tax.

Of course, what it doesn't show is anything even remotely acknowledging what money all of us, not just the state government, lose when people skip across the border to save a few bucks on taxes. That is, I'll grant you, hard to quantify, but think of it in the common terms we all know, how "one dollar spent in the community turns over at least seven times before it leaves." When a fella heads down to Colorado to buy a tractor, all that money he is spending to buy the thing (and gasoline to get there... and lunch for the trip... oh, and as long as he's there, why not get a sack of groceries... or a lottery ticket?... how about stopping for another meal? maybe a little movie?)... turns over in Colorado.

In other words, that projected loss of $1 million a year in state revenue doesn't tell the whole story. How much are we all, as a people, losing by adhering to the status quo?

These questions need to be considered, folks. The legislature is voting on this issue (and many others, of course) right now. House Bill 91 passed the House this week (with some shocking no votes... this should have been a no-brainer, guys!) and is on the way to the Senate. Your input, dear readers, can still help.

Fight the power. Or something.

*This may seem odd for two tremendous fans of Sam Western's PUSHED OFF THE MOUNTAIN, SOLD DOWN THE RIVER, a tome which takes Wyoming rather severely to task for coddling its ag producers in various absurd ways, but that tome also advocates bringing our state and its policies in line to maybe share in a little of the stunning prosperity all of our neighboring states (note for the geographically challenged: Wyoming borders Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, and Utah) - all of which have a sales and use tax exemption on ag equipment. Which, yes, class, sends a whole lot of ranchers and other implement buyers out of state to do their shopping. Is this looking inward? Is this grassroots business development? NO. It's leaving the bung out of the barrel and letting more of our resources pour across our already hideously porous borders.

Monday, February 03, 2003


The Sewer King has given me kudos for producing a "mostly true" account of yesterday's events.

And so I am conscience stricken, and must 'fess up so that I might sleep tonight the sleep of the just, the sleep of the untroubled soul, the sleep of the mostly accurate chronicler who has done her humble duty and done it well.

I didn't really make those witty geometrical allusions.

And the King doesn't really look that much like the Roadrunner when he skis off into the distance. More like a cat burglar on skis; I always have to fight the urge to check his pockets for ill-gotten booty after each adventure.

Poetic license. Poetic license, my dear readers.

So, my ski partner, known to LIANT readers also as The Sewer King, got tired of my having to turn back early every Sunday because I kept developing dauntingly hideous and painful blisters on my heels no matter what combination of socks, moleskin and bandages I applied as prophylactics, and furthermore, got tired of my also occasionally having to turn back because my “trailpacker” skis were not stiff enough or thick enough to keep me up on the really deep snow he prefers to muck about in.

His solution? Stick me on some different skis, skis with different bindings, skis that would a) require the acquisition of different boots and b) support me better in the gnarly deep snow, etc. etc.

Fine. Great. Fabulous. It is pretty embarrassing to be the one lagging behind, and limping on skis is bad for the body as well as the dignity, and trying to free onself from the mess when one has sunk hip deep into the snow with a big pair of skis on burns up energy that could otherwise be spent going the extra mile.

But oooohhhh... I didn’t know from embarrassing until yesterday.

Just to give you a hint of the flavor, I present an encapsulation of a typical verbal exchange between my cloacal ski partner and myself from our latest Sunday outing.

SK: OK, you’re going to have to really dig your skis into the –

YHB (wobbling and sliding like Bambi on the ice): YELP!

SK (gently mocking): Yelp!

YHB (getting back up again with much effort): Grunt.

SK: OK, really dig that ski in. Here, perpendicular to the fall line...

YHB: There’s a fall line? Looks like a whole fall plane to me... YELP!

SK (gently mocking): Yelp!

Collie of Folly: Lick, lick, lick.

YHB: Molly, not now. (Finally hauls herself back up just to get out from under the barrage of doggie kisses).

SK: OK, now really PLOP down that ski. OK, lean hard into it. Look! You’re standing!


SK (gently mocking): Yelp!


You see, before yesterday, I’d been tooling around on a pair of touring skis, made, as the Sewer King sneered, for farting around on very groomed, well-maintained trails in Colorado. These skis have style (my dear partner forgets, methinks, how he originally admired them on our first outing last December. “Those are some good looking skis,” he remarked then as he loaded them and the Collie of Folly into his pickup), and, more importantly, serious traction, so I never even had to execute the dreaded “herringbone” maneuver when heading up hills, and didn’t have to pay much attention to my technique at all. But... therein lay my downfall.

A very sloppy skier I was, I now realize.

Very sloppy.

As I realized immediately when I bound my new NNNBC boots to a pair of SK’s backcountry skis and fell down. And fell down again. And again. Even though the ground was level and I had shown no previous signs of inner ear disorders or other problems with balance. It had even been, oh, at least six hours since I’d pounded back my last glass of the cooking wine at the Minister of Fun’s house.

No, this was all physics. As in the importance of downward pressure and exquisite balance to provide the friction that my flimsy trailpackers had led me to take for granted in the three or so years I’ve been skiing as an adult but these other skis, skis coated in weird, sticky wax and a bit skinnier than my others, did not in and of themselves provide.

The watchword of the day, repeated like the refrain of some borderline-obscene Anglo-Saxon campfire song by the Sewer King, was “PLOP.”

If there is any slope at all, I learned, I would continue to yelp in freaked-out amazement as my skis slid right out from under me until I learned to PLOP – plant each ski very decisively into the snow, leaning slightly forward and putting all of my strength and weight into that plopping motion and plopping for keeps. And when the slope was at all challenging, my poles must go behind me to prop me up and keep me stable.

All of this is, as I’ve said, a bit more work than I was used to. Fortunately for me, I’m stubborn as hell, and so with only about twelve hours of patient encouragement from the Sewer King, shivering in the cold of an approaching snowstorm because he dresses to allow for the warmth of serious exercise and not for standing around in crappy weather watching someone fall down a lot, at last I managed to stay upright, crowing in triumph and yelling at my dog to stop nudging me in the knees because it wasn’t really that funny to make momma fall, was it?

Then it was time to (GASP) start trying to make actual forward progress, and once again I found I’ve been doing it all wrong. But here’s the thing: when I started doing it right, the movement felt so much better, so much more graceful and closer to being effortless kind of like... kind of like the way my partner looks just before he zooms off, Roadrunner like, around the corner and beyond the horizon.

Oh, wait, I can do it too! Sort of! As long as I pay attention and concentrate on the new, correct movement, and don’t slack off into the lazy old movement. But that, too, was easy, because the penalty for slacking off was immediate: the slacking foot and ski would slip backwards, my leg would snap back and I would teeter on the brink of falling (again, yelping amusingly) and feel like a perfect ass.

What’s that? What’s he saying to me? OK, try it without poles. Carry the poles uselessly in one hand and skate along... it really is like skating! Much more so than the old way, in the old boots, on the old skis. Oh, it feels good, gliding along, whistling a happy tune between the backslide-induced yelps... but then... but then...

The first real slope. It’s not long, and I would have trudged easily up it on my trailpackers (if they didn’t betray me and sink me hip-deep into the snow) but now... now... time for the ultimate PLOPstep, and heavy work for my arms and shoulders because a) the poles become crucial for balance as I try correctly to place my skis and b) the poles are even more crucial for pulling myself up out of the snow after I’ve slid backwards a few feet and fallen down with a resounding... PLOP.

I therefore wound up working harder than I’ve yet done on one of our outings this winter, and skied a shorter distance than I’ve done since our first day out, and my muscles as I type this Monday afternoon are quite sore, but I’ve yet to wipe the silly, happy grin off my face... not just over the bliss of blister-free feet (though that is bliss indeed), but also over the memory of feeling I might finally get this ski thing right.

The Skiwer King now thinks maybe I would have been better off, that most people would be better off, learning the whole thing on slick backcountry skis from the get-go, comparing such to the practice of teaching a kid to drive on a stick-shift vehicle; you have to learn everything, can’t rely on any crutches of technology or convenience, and master techniques that will always serve you well no matter how harsh or marshmallow-y the conditions.

(Of course, my walking buddy remarks, by the same analogy, it’s best to throw someone into the English Channel during a seastorm to teach him to swim... but that’s maybe taking analogy to extremes)

I say better late than never... and know myself well enough to know also that when I was younger I would not have had quite the right stubbornness and patience to keep falling and rising and sticking my tongue out at my even more patient pal, who finally taught me to ski after all.