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Our Wyoming State Legislature started this week, with Gov. Matt Mead’s State of the State address on Jan. 11. The House and Senate convened at noon that day and will meet until March 3. Although last year was the budget session, dollars will be the main topic this year, too.

One of the main topics will be how to fund our K-12 schools. One hears that Gov. Mead and the legislators really don’t have a plan as of yet, but that issue will be for the legislative process to work out. You can bet that there are some good ideas going around the Capitol, and if not, they don’t let on to us.

The K-12 schools will face a $400 million shortfall in the years ahead. So how do we deal with that amount every year? Along with that, school construction dollars are about gone, I hear. How do we maintain all the newer schools that have been built the last few years?

Who would have ever thought that a time would come where the President of the U.S. would stop leasing coal on federal mineral rights and tax the electrical generating plants for burning coal? Instead of burrowing their head in the sand, the federal government needs to help states more find ways to burn the coal with less carbon. If we went to the moon, we ought to be able to find ways to develop clean coal and not destroy the states and towns who have the coal to mine.

Raising property taxes is not a popular idea, nor is having a state income tax. In fact, raising any taxes will not get you a free cup of coffee. I have always supported raising the sales taxes, if needed. It is a fair way to make sure we all pay and that one industry or age class doesn’t get nailed. And it is a fair way that taxes everyone who comes and enjoys what we have to offer as a state, such as good roads, scenery and good people.

Besides school funding, the legislators have to find a way to come up with $80 million to repair the State Penitentiary in Rawlins. Remember, they built it on unstable ground 15 years ago, kind of like some schools around the state. That is a huge problem that will take some discussion.

The state has some rainy day accounts with not much policy on when and how to spend those funds. That, too, needs to be debated. There are those who just blame the Republicans for not want wanting to spend those accounts. Remember, under our state constitution, we have to balance the state budget every two years. Spending money like our federal government will just get us in trouble, affecting Republicans, Democrats and all.

One thing we all can do as citizens is to get to know our legislators. Whether you are in agriculture or not, we all belong to some organization or group, and most of them have receptions for the legislators and our elected officials. It is our responsibility to get to Cheyenne, pony up, attend those receptions and get to know the legislators and state officials. And don’t just tell your representatives and senators how you disagree with them. Give them a “‘Atta boy” or pat on the back, and do the same for your lobbyists. They all do a very hard service to the state.

This past week was Thanksgiving, a day to be thankful for all we have here in America and to help those who are not so fortunate. Most of us celebrate by having a large turkey dinner and, as they say, all the trimmings. We celebrate being Americans, just as they did at the first Thanksgiving with the pilgrims and Indians. I’m not sure where the turkey came in, but as cattle and lamb producers, we’ll let it slide for one day.

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) puts out an annual report just before Thanksgiving on what an average Thanksgiving dinner will cost that year. AFBF’s shopping list includes turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a veggie tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, coffee and milk, all in quantities sufficient to serve a family of 10 with plenty of leftovers – the best part of Thanksgiving, I think.

The report found that this year’s average Thanksgiving dinner cost for 10 people amounted to $49.87, a 24-cent decrease from last year. The big item, a 16-pound turkey, came in at a total of $22.74 this year. That’s around $1.42 a pound, or about two cents cheaper from last year.

According to the report, American consumers saw prices for food prepared at home drop 0.2 percent in October from the previous month, the sixth straight monthly decline. Prices for meat, seafood and eggs fell for the 14th straight month. Over the last 12 months, the food at home index has declined 2.3 percent, the largest 12-month decline since December 2009. As in September, all six major grocery store food group indexes declined over last year. That is good news for consumers, but bad news for farmers, ranchers and others who grow and provide that food.

The report didn’t get into dairy or pumpkin pies, but AFBF noted those prices are also down, especially dairy. The average cost of a gallon of milk this year is $3.17, down from $3.25 in 2015. This decrease is due to a significant expansion in global milk production. Prices fell to the lowest level since 2009. But, the report said that milk should rise because dairy industry economists expect domestic and international demand to go up in the next year, pushing up prices by the fall of 2017.

Reading through all the Farm Bureau member states, the Texas Farm Bureau shows a rise in cost this year over last year, with the cost of dinner at $48.85 compared to $46.48 last year. One of the differences is, the Texas report had pecan pie instead of pumpkin. Good for those Texans. Pecans are up this year because of the weather. But turkeys in Texas were also cheaper, so the other food costs must have been higher, as well. Don’t go to Texas for Thanksgiving – unless you’re into pecans, of course.

But, as we all know, it is not where one celebrates Thanksgiving but who we celebrate with. We at the Roundup hope all of you had a great and loving Thanksgiving and that you enjoyed friends and family.

We’re also hopeful that you make plans to attend the Wyoming Stock Growers Convention Dec. 5-7 in Casper, where we will have some more fun and good discussions. We’ll see you all there. 

In this day and age of social media and instant communication, the real story has a hard time getting out. One can’t just use social media as their only news source and get the whole story. One of the troubles these days is that the news from social media and some cable television out there seems to always have some kind of spin on it, that is, a spin favorable to their values, and it hit Wyoming the last few weeks.

For the last couple of years, having the state manage or control its federal lands has been a hot topic not only in Wyoming but other western states, as well. For those who do business on public lands, recent years have not been good. Grazing, oil, natural gas, coal and other commodities and users have had issues with overreach from Washington, D.C. If you hunt, fish or recreate on public lands, one doesn’t have as much exposure to how the lands are managed as other users do.

It has been recognized that most of the overreach and major decisions over the last few years concerning public lands have come from the back of the White House, so the public land managers have had to enforce these changes whether they are beneficial or not. County commissioners, state legislatures and those who make a living from public lands have reached a high point of frustration in doing business on these lands, and many are looking for solutions. The state taking over management of some of these lands being one option out of many.

Wyoming Legislators were asked to look into the issue, as were others in other western states. In Wyoming, the task fell on the Select Federal Natural Resource Management Committee. The Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments was charged to contract out a study on the feasibility of the state management of these lands, and after a $75,000 study was complete, consultants said it would be hard for the state to manage – let alone own – these lands.

The Legislative Committee also drafted a bill that proposed a constitutional amendment, which described some restrictions should a transfer take place and guaranteed rights of those federal lands. The Select Committee has really done a great job and accomplished what the Legislature asked them to do.

The trouble began as some sportsman groups and conservation organizations that were opposed to any change claimed that if there was state control, the state would sell those lands and the recreational values would be lost. As Election Day got closer, some candidates jumped on the bandwagon, hoping to get more votes. But as you can see, it didn’t help much. However, they sure stirred up the sportsmen and recreationists, who took the misinformation and ran with it.

That is, until they got to the Legislative hearing in Riverton, where they heard the real story on the study and proposed constitutional amendment. Some from the organizations still used the misinformation in their comments to the committee members. You know, you get more donations if you have a big cause, whether it is true or not.

At least in Wyoming, the government is most likely not going to exchange lands, give up management or sell land to the state. There is just too much mineral wealth underground, but it is good to have a discussion. The state and its people depend on these lands so much, including hunting, fishing and recreation.

But we need to all start with the real story, the truth.

The election is over, and we have a new President Trump. Some are happy and staying, some are disappointed and leaving, but most are just glad it is over. The sun will still rise tomorrow morning, and life will go on. It’s what we have always done after an election. America is known for two things, long presidential elections and having no shots fired during the transfer of power. The relinquishment of power and the handing over the reins of leadership to a new person has always been calm and orderly, something that doesn’t always happen in a lot of countries.

And so life does go on, and being involved, as a number of you are, in raising and providing food for our nation and some other countries, I always get nervous when I hear talk about a recession coming, especially in the food or restaurant business.

  Some analysts say the restaurant recession has arrived, and if it is true, that could be tough on places like Casper, where we seem to have a number of restaurants and plans for three or four more in the downtown area. We all like to have a choice of restaurants, and we hope the new ones, along with the established ones, all make a go of it.

Consumers are starting to grapple with rising costs, maybe not so much in Wyoming as in other states, and they are learning, with grocery prices coming down, that we need to take advantage of cheaper groceries and eat more at home. We certainly hope people are buying beef and lamb, especially beef. Beef producers are really hurting, as some say we have to eat our way out of the beef glut. There are a number of other reasons for the low beef prices, but large numbers of cattle is one of them.

A number of major investment companies have lowered their expectations for large restaurant companies. Stifel, which downgraded 11 restaurant stocks to sell last July, last week warned of the saturated and mature nature of the U.S. restaurant industry.

Along with other rising costs of living, there is also a rising cost of eating out, which has come just as grocery prices have gotten cheaper. The cost of food purchased for home use across America has fallen over 2.4 percent in the past year. As MarketWatch said, that is the biggest decline over a 12-month period since the end of the 2009 recession. Food at home has lowered about as much as food from restaurants has risen.

Hamburger, the biggest beef product, is down 8.8 percent from a year ago, despite a rare 0.8 percent rise in October. That, along with other lower meat prices, should help those in the restaurant business. Also, those in the restaurant business use a lot of imagination to lure us in to eat at their business. We just need to take advantage of those marketing ploys.

Restaurant operators are expected to increase the use of promotions and discounts to win back diners, further crimping earnings at a time when commodity costs are historically low. Commodity deflation has already created greater competition from our supermarkets, which are better able to pass higher costs on to the consumers.

So, just like in the livestock business, it is supply and demand. We know that all too well.