Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Helium tax rises

Revenue Committee votes 8-1 to tax helium

The industry lobbyists came out in force Wednesday trying to throw sand and gravel in the way of a severance tax on helium. It was tempting to take a helium-filled balloon into the committee room and huff it so I could testify in full helium voice. We could have used a little morning humor.

Exxon's attorney Patrick Day complained that the tax singles out his company since its the only outfit producing helium in Wyoming today. Exxon strips helium produced from its gas wells during processing at its big plant near Shute Creek. He gently, a number of times, outlined the likelihood of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the tax. Angling for a delay that could save his company around $3 million, he asked for an interim study to consider the complexities of the matter.

But he was just one of the many industry reps in the room. The Petroleum Association of Wyoming sent Bruce Hinchey, a former House speaker, to read a letter from Peter Wold, president of a Casper-based producer. Wold asked the committee not to rush the new tax.
Questar's lobbyists said the company had considered a gas processing plant and found it economically infeasible. If its analysis had been required to account for a severance tax on helium, the idea would have been even more risky, really risky.

Show us the money

The Revenue Department held its ground, though and Craig Grenvik assured the committee that lawsuits are simply a part of everyday life in his world.

The committee withstood the industry barrage and kept its focus on the state's constitutional requirement of a severance tax levy on valuable minerals produced in the state. Reps. Tom Lubnau, Tim Stubson, Mark Semlek and Chairman Rodney Pete Anderson stuck to the basic principal that if a mineral comes out of the ground in Wyoming, the state expects to recover some of the value in tax revenues.

No doubt some of the resolution the committee displayed derived from the public shaming Gov. Dave Freudenthal subjected them to earlier this month after they declined to advance the helium tax bill and then dumped the governor's property tax relief proposal to help senior citizens. The governor essentially called it a $3 million tax break for Big Oil and a stick in the eye for seniors. Dave can cut to the quick sometimes.

These companies are making millions in Wyoming producing the minerals that bless this wind-swept place. If we get to that interim study, it should include a long, hard look at the question of whether the state is getting its fair share of the value when it levies a severance tax of a measly 6 percent. When you see the number of industry lobbyists and witness the skills they wield to pressure Wyoming legislators, the reason for such a low tax rate becomes clear.

Electronic filing and campaign finance

The House gave final approval to House Bill 3 - Electronic Filing Wednesday. The bill moves to the Senate.

It follows House Bill 9 - Campaign Finance, the bill that limits state PAC contributions and more than triples the individual contributions limit.

Headway on filing

In turnaound, House votes to make filing universal

Feb. 20, 2008 - The House voted Tuesday to remove an amendment from House Bill 3 that made compliance with electronic filing requirements voluntary.

In one of those moves that reminds you that the Wyoming Legislature can sometimes stand up and do the right thing, the House voted to remove an amendment that weakened this bill. Now all candidates running in 2010 will have to file electronically. The move means contribution and spending information filed by candidates will be part of a searchable database that voters across Wyoming can use to see who is supporting state politicians.

Somehow, fears of a mandatory system evaporated. The vote is one that's good for state politics.