Current Edition

current edition

Cheyenne – Wyoming’s agriculture organizations spent 40 days in Cheyenne, advocating for the interests of their members, and lobbyists for those organizations all noted that the session was very different from those in years past.

“This year is one for the books,” said Jim Magagna of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA). “We dealt with many issues, from budget constraints to a large number of new legislators.”

He also noted that leadership in the House of Representatives was entirely new.

“They faced a challenge, and they stepped up to the leadership responsibilities that they were elected for,” he commented.

Budget

While this year’s budget bill provided challenges, not all were disappointed in the outcome of the bill.

Amy Hendrickson of the Wyoming Wool Growers Association said, “We were thrilled to get $306,000 for predator management added back into the bill. It’s not a lot, but we’re very grateful for that money.”

Bobbie Frank of the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts said that conservation districts largely avoided major impacts from budget cuts.

Ken Hamilton of Wyoming Farm Bureau noted that this session, the Appropriations Committees took a different strategy than he had seen in previous years.

“It surprised us when the Appropriations Committee started drafting bills that went into statutes and changed things,” he explained. “For example, they changed the Wyoming Livestock Board’s ability to increase fees from 20 to 25 percent in one year. That was unusual.”

Brett Moline, also of Wyoming Farm Bureau, echoed Hamilton saying, “There were some major fee-increase bills that came out of Appropriations, rather than their appropriate committees.”

Moline cited bills related to driver’s license and license plate fee increases as examples.

Keith Kennedy of the Wyoming Ag Business Association and Wyoming Wheat Marketing Commission said those increases could have been worse for agriculture, though.

“We didn’t get everything we wanted, but they did decide to include apportioned vehicles that hadn’t been included before,” he said. “Also, the increase in state registration fees wasn’t as steep as it could have been.”

For ag taxes, a bill was passed to ensure that farmsteads, or the land where shops, sheds and corrals lie on, are assessed at agricultural values, rather than as for their residential value. The bill was supported by all ag groups in the state.

“I think there was a desire by some in the Legislature to figure out a tax increase, but they didn't get it done,” said Moline.

Special districts

Several pieces of legislation that were hotly debated during the interim related to special districts also passed, including Senate file (SF) 15, Special district budget requirements.

“Conservation districts are not affected because we were exempted from the financial requirements, but water conservancy districts are affected, as are other ag districts, like predator boards and irrigation districts,” Frank said. “Special districts want to make sure they’re aware and familiar with new requirements.”

For example, special districts are now required to have training.

“We are also concerned, however, that there could potentially be a number of different training programs that do not give out the same information,” Frank said. “SF 16, Special district elections also passed, as well.”

Hendrickson noted that predator management boards across the state currently meet many of the requirements, but they are working to ensure all requirements are met.

Other bills

For Frank, House Bill 26, Bark beetle funding, passed and was signed, allowing groups across the state adequate money to address impacts from bark beetle infestation.

Hamilton and Moline mentioned that several bills related to food also passed during the session, including a bill to expand food freedom to include poultry and rabbits.

“Rep. Lindholm wanted to re-emphasize that people can sell chickens, as long as they’re below the USDA level of 1,000 birds, and they can also sell fish and rabbits,” said Moline. “Sen. Dockstader also sponsored adding a provision to allow food sales at places of business, rather than just at farmers’ markets.”

In addition, $25,000 was added to the budget as a grant for schools to allow them to pay for processing on donated animals, allowing purchase of local meat products.

Magagna highlighted that WSGA had two priorities for the session – a bill regarding antler and horn collection and another to increase monies available through the beginning ag producers loan program. Both bills passed.

Kennedy also expressed that a bill that clarified LLC dissolution and the potential for IRS capital gains ramifications.

“There was some language that was unclear, so it was possible that the Internal Revenue Service could levy a cash assessment for dispersing property if an LLC was dissolved,” he said. 

A bill on animal cruelty, which makes it a felony to maliciously shoot or kill an animal that is on property where it is supposed to be, also passed.

“We did not anticipate this bill,” Magagna said, “but we were glad to support it.”

Hamilton noted that he supported the bill and said, “We worked on expanding it to some degree to say that if someone comes onto land or into areas where livestock are lawfully supposed to be, it would also be a felony to shoot that animal.”

Failed bills

Several bills that were of concern to the ag industry also failed or died for lack of action.

“There were a couple of bills that also floated in the session for discussion,” Hamilton said. “One of them was a country of origin labeling bill for the state of Wyoming, and another was a right to repair farm equipment bill. We’re hoping to see some discussion on the latter in the interim.”

Other failed bills included provisions to continue the Task Force on Special Districts, instream flow bills and small water projects bills.

“Some of the bills that died will likely be taken up in the interim because they need more discussion,” Frank said.

Challenges

Among the challenges that resulted from session, Magagna highlighted loss of General Fund monies for the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB).

“Fifty percent of the funding for the brand program was eliminated,” Magagna said. “That is going to be a challenge for the Board and the industry on whether we increase inspection fees, registration fees or what to cover that loss.”

Additionally, the reduction of WLSB’s law enforcement from four to one position will also be challenging.

“I think they’re on a good path to see what options are available and to engage the industry,” he comments.

“We’re keen on working with WLSB to answer the challenges that they see,” Hendrickson added.

As legislators and lobbyists return home to continue assessing long-term impacts and look at the interim session, Magagna commented, “From an agriculture perspective, aside from budget issues, by and large, it was a good session, and we accomplished much more than I had anticipated.”

Look for more in next week’s Roundup on the issues that will be discussed in the interim session leading up to the 2018 Budget Session of the Wyoming Legislature.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

With the new snow falling across Wyoming, the agriculture industry is also facing a new set of priorities in 2017, and industry groups have set their focus at the beginning of the year on the 2017 General Session of the Wyoming Legislature.

The Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA), Wyoming Farm Bureau (WyFB) and Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts (WACD) are all actively working during the new year on a variety of priorities that impact producers around the state.

Legislative session

For most ag groups, the year starts with the general session of the 64th Wyoming Legislature.

“There aren’t a lot of issues this year so far,” comments Brett Moline, government affairs specialist for WyFB. “Of course, we’ll watch the budget, but the agencies that ag works with – the Wyoming Livestock Board and Wyoming Department of Agriculture – aren’t large pieces of the budget compared to agencies like education and health.”

Bobbie Frank of WACD notes that cuts taken to the water quality program and others have implications at the local level, which impacts conservation districts.

Jim Magagna, WSGA’s executive director, noted that budgetary concerns are some of his biggest for this year.

“We all know we have to take reductions, but keeping reasonable budgets that allow agencies like the Wyoming Department of Agriculture and Wyoming Livestock Board to do their jobs in reasonable but cost-effective ways is going to be pretty important,” he says.

Magagna adds, “We’re going to be engaged in the discussions about budgeting, and we’re going to work hard to protect critical programs for agriculture.”

Other bills

Moline says that WyFB will be supporting a bill related to municipal jurisdiction, which would define the jurisdiction of municipalities to just within city limits.

“We feel that people should have a vote for those people who write the rules and regulations affecting them,” he explains. “The city being able to regulate outside the city limits is essentially rules without representation.”

Moline’s organization will also support a bill that adds collection of horns and antlers to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s trespass statutes. WSGA also indicated support for the bill.

“We are also one of the few groups that will support Senate Joint Resolution 3 Public lands constitutional amendment,” he says. “Our members feel that the state agencies can do a better job managing the lands than the federal agencies do.”

Keith Kennedy, lobbyist and director of several ag organizations, says he will be closely watching HB 54 and 67, two bills related to agricultural land taxation.

Moline notes, however, that HB 67 is a bill that WyFB will not support.

“That bill could affect people that have good mineral incomes or young farmers and ranchers that are just sorting out,” he says. “We don’t think that bill is a workable situation.”

The bill to clarify terms for dry bean commission members is one that Kennedy will support, as well.

“Several members have expressed support for the convention of states bills, but none of the groups I represent have yet taken any formal position on this issue,” Kennedy adds.

For WSGA, Magagna notes that a bill related to the farm loan program is the primary piece of legislation that his organization will support.

“We are requesting a couple of easy changes to that program,” he says, explaining that the bill looks to increase the loan limit for $800,000 to $1 million to reflect inflation. “We also want to increase the percentage of dollars available to beginning farmer and rancher loans. That program is approaching the cap of what it could expend. This doesn’t involve any new dollars. It’s just a re-allocation.”

Special district bill

The bill related to specials districts is a top priority for many groups.

Frank comments that WACD has been involved in the discussion related to special districts for the entire year.

“We are exempted from the budget requirement bill, but it still applies to Watershed Improvement Districts, which we are the parent district of, so we want to stay involved,” Frank says. “We will also continue to work with the special districts.”

She notes that WACD will continue to work with special districts throughout the state to implement a training program, which was abandoned by the legislature but is still a top concern for many.

“We think training is important, and we’re going to open up our February training session to other special district board members,” Frank adds.

“We’re also closely watching the bills related to special districts,” Kennedy adds.

The 64th Wyoming Legislature will convene on Jan. 10.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Cody – The Wyoming Weed and Pest Council hosted a full slate of council meetings and educational speakers during the 2016 Wyoming Weed and Pest Conference on Nov. 1-3, including breakout sessions on bio-control research, Ventenata grass and public court cases related to Weed and Pest districts.

During the business meeting on Nov. 1, Park County Weed and Pest Supervisor Josh Shorb gave an update on the recent work of the Special Districts Task Force and its impacts on special districts, including Wyoming Weed and Pest.

Budgeting

When discussing the budget bill related to special districts, Shorb noted that many elements of the proposed bill are already addressed by current Weed and Pest Council actions.

“When we talk about the budget bill, a lot of those things that are in that, the Weed and Pest Act and what we’re actually doing is already addressed,” he said.

One element that will be addressed is how special districts assess and assign functions to their budget reserve. Shorb explained that historically, Wyoming Weed and Pest listed the figure in their budget report but did not include an explanation.

“What this budget bill will do, in a sense, is make every district state their budget reserve policy and what it’s for,” said Shorb. “That’s going to give an opportunity for districts to explain themselves.”

He commented than many people do not realize the importance of a large budget reserve in the event of weed or pest outbreaks.

“When a grasshopper plague sweeps across Johnson County, we can spend $4 million pretty quick, but some people don’t realize that,” continued Shorb.

Dissolution

“Another one of the big bills out there is the dissolution of special districts,” said Shorb. “That’s where a lot of the special districts are going to band together and fight if it gets sponsored.”

He explained that there are three ways that a county commission can begin the process to dissolve a district that are in existing law currently.

“One of them is for the good of the people, basically the ‘we feel like it’ clause,” Shorb continued.

Proposed changes include adding further language that would delineate different things a special district could do that would trigger a county commission to begin dissolving a district, including not providing their budget to the county clerk on time, not posting notices on time or providing them in a publically accessible place.

“This would give commissioners potentially more authority and a little bit longer of a laundry list on how to dissolve a district,” explained Shorb.

He noted that while county commissions cannot simply say that a district is dissolved, they do have a significant influence on public vote.

“It has to go to the voters, but for a county commission to even bring that up and have it in the local newspapers, that’s not good,” stressed Shorb.

Power

County commissions currently a significant amount of authority over Weed and Pest districts, said Shorb.

“That’s already been in the state statute, and it’s been that way for a long time. I think a lot of county commissions out there did not realize they had this authority over us,” he continued.

However, throughout the function of the special task force, the executive director of the Wyoming County Commissioner’s Association has been actively involved in discussions.

“County commissions are all very aware right now of the actual authority they have over Weed and Pest districts,” stressed Shorb.

One result that Shorb predicted is that county commissions will question special districts on their budget reserves and future budget plans.

“I can see some things come to pass like this district has ‘X’ amount of dollars in there, and they can say, ‘No, you don’t get your full mill. You’re going to get 90 percent. Use your budget reserve to fill that last 10 percent,’” explained Shorb. “They want to tell us we can squeak as much as we want but we can’t do anything.”

He noted that the control that county commissions have over special districts is slightly concerning, but the task force and the Council will continue to follow the issue.

Professional

Shorb stressed that Wyoming Weed and Pest districts will need to create a unified front when faced with upcoming bills and building positive relationships with county commissions.

“We’re going to have to have a lot of help from everybody this year, and we’re going to have to have a united front,” said Shorb.

To help with this goal, he strong suggested investing in hiring a professional lobbyist.

“That’s one of the reasons I think we need to bring in a professional,” continued Shorb.

In the 2016 budget, the Wyoming Weed and Pest Council recommended $6,000 for professional services, said Shorb.

“I don’t know that the accountant is going to pass that to approve that money, but my recommendation is that they do. The guy that we’re working with is Pete Illoway,” he said. “We already had him attend one of the task force meetings on our behalf.”

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Cheyenne – The 64th Wyoming Legislature launched the 2017 General Session with the 2017 State of the State Address by Gov. Matt Mead.

Mead said, “I’m privileged today to give my seventh State of the State Address to the joint session of this new legislature, Wyoming’s 64th.”

“There are new leaders and new faces,” he continued. “There is new energy that comes with adding new people to the mix. To the first-time legislators, welcome. You have joined a distinguished group. To returning legislators, welcome back.”

“On the state of the State, I am pleased to report that, though we face challenging times, Wyoming remains strong,” Mead emphasized. “Our state has prepared well for times of lower revenue, and our citizens continue to do great things, contributing to Wyoming’s strength and success.”

Funding

Mead began his address by noting that conservative budgeting and savings have been instrumental in preparing Wyoming’s for the lean budget years.

“Past and present leaders of Wyoming have done both,” he said.

Currently, Wyoming has $1.59 billion in the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account (LSRA), commonly know as the rainy day fund, and nearly $7.4 billion in the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund.

“These funds have grown substantially during my time in office,” he said. “The rainy day fund is named for rainy days, like those we have been experiencing the last couple of years. It’s raining.”

Mead explained that those funds have helped ease the pain of tough revenue times to supplement the budget and provide necessary services to the state of Wyoming. 

“Questions about the rainy day fund and its use continue to exist,” he said. “I continue to believe we need additional guidelines on the use of this fund that will set parameters and provide our citizens and local governments a better opportunity to refine their budgets by knowing what is the rainy day for and when will it be used.”

While carefully using those funds allows the state to backfill coffers during challenging times, he also noted that such use must be carefully regulated.

In 2017-18, $218 million was used from the rainy day fund by the Wyoming Legislature, leaving the fund “healthy,” according to Mead.

Top ranks

“We see, despite the energy bust, Wyoming has kept high national rankings,” Mead said. “These are indicative of our state’s strength.”

Throughout 2016, Wyoming maintained it’s AAA credit rating from Standard and Poor’s, and Wyoming was named the best state to start a business in, to make a living in and to retire in.

“These are all from 2016,” Mead emphasized. “That was the difficult year we just went through, and Wyoming was still ranked number one by the Tax Foundation for having the most business-friendly tax climate.”

Wyoming was also ranked first in workforce development in the Mountain Region, third for new business startups and sixth for business.

“Despite difficult budgets, Wyoming stayed proactive and forward-looking,” Mead said, noting that capital construction projects have allowed the state to continue to move forward.

“We have had an incredible opportunity with the wealth created by our citizens and business,” he added. “We are grateful for our partnerships.”

Strength moving forward

“Here in Wyoming, we are enriched by our great ag, tourism and minerals,” Mead said. “We are keeping the competitive edge, and that’s a wise thing to do at all times, especially in times of constrained revenue.”

He continued, “In 2016, we pushed on to promote and diversify our economy.”

Mead also noted the importance of agriculture.

“We are now and shall always be a proud ag state. Ag puts food on the table and provides open spaces,” he said. “We also have great wildlife and a great respect for the second amendment.”

He continued that these traditions have been an instrumental part of bringing in new industries to diversify the state’s economy.

In addition, Wyoming saw a year of record-breaking expansion for manufacturing, particularly in terms of the firearms industry.

“Our world-class companies manufacture guns, rifles, precision optics, etc.,” Mead said. “Magpul was also recently selected as the exclusive supplied of magazines for combat use for the U.S. Marine Corp. Isn’t that great news for Wyoming?”

“I believe now, more than ever, we can continue to built on a robust industry in Wyoming,” he added.

Moving forward

“Wyoming remains strong heading into this new year, and that’s a big achievement,” Mead said. “We’re keeping the state strong, and there’s a lot of credit to go around.”

However, as the state continues to forward, he noted that the budget will be of top concern.

In June 2016, Mead said he asked agencies to cut $250 million from their budgets, which are carried forward in his supplemental budget.

“The Executive Branch operating budget which was $2.9 billion in 2010, is now $2.5 billion, which is down, not up,” he said. “This reflects a conservative, disciplined budget.”

The Wyoming Legislature also voted for $67.7 million in cuts, which were difficult to make.

Despite the deep cuts that have been made, Mead said he has five simple budget requests for the upcoming year.

“I make only five general fund requests – $5 million for local governments, $2 million for the ENDOW initiative, $165,000 for tribal liaison, $500,000 for the UW Science Initiative and $475,000 for UW Strategic Enrollment,” he said.

In addition, Mead noted that there are challenges related to education funding, for which he has asked for a separate budget.

“Right now, we see a projected shortfall of $1.5 billion over the next six years,” he said. “That crisis requires big, difficult choices.”

“As we face difficult budget times, we know we are better suited to address this now than in the past,” Mead emphasized. “It isn’t just about the numbers or dollars on a single issue. We are obligated to do what is best – not for ourselves or our political parties, but for the citizens of wonderful Wyoming. We will continue to work hard for the citizens of Wyoming, and may God continue to bless Wyoming, the U.S. and all her people.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

As Wyomingites begin to fill out their absentee ballots or prepare to visit their polling place on Election Day, the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office notes that they will see a constitutional amendment on the ballot. Wyoming State Treasurer Mark Gordon adds the measure would be helpful to support the state.

Amendment A, if passed by voters, would give the Legislature the opportunity to allow some of the Wyoming’s non-permanent funds to hold other investments than just bonds, which could  increase returns from invested monies.

Funding sources

Gordon comments that it is important to distinguish that retirement funds and permanent funds are not part of the funds included in Amendment A.

“These funds were given the constitutional authority to invest in equities by the voters in the 1990," he says. “They have been doing it for some time.”

“Wyoming’s portfolio is about $19.8 billion, and that gives off typically anywhere from $1,300 to $1,700 in tax savings for every Wyoming citizen,” Gordon explains.

Permanent funds make up approximately two-thirds of Wyoming’s total portfolio, and each fund has specific purposes, explains Gordon.  The other third is a pool of funds is called the State Agency Pool.

“In the State Agency Pool, there are more than 300 different component funds, so they run everything from boards to agency budgets and appropriations, clear up to the Legislative Stability Reserve Account (LSRA), or the rainy day fund,” Gordon comments. “There are also a number of trust funds, like the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, which funds weed and pest control among other things, the Cultural Resources Trust and others.”

The State Agency pool is the set of monies that cannot currently be invested in equities. Amendment A would target only those funds.

“We did a very quick and dirty study that looked at the returns from the permanent Mineral Trust a year ago,” Gordon continues. “We looked at the earnings, and it was right around six percent over the long haul. We compared that to the State Agency Pool, which earned right around two percent for the same time interval.”

Passage

If the constitutional amendment is passed, Gordon says it does not immediately authorize funds to be invested in riskier portfolios.

“This allows the Legislature to take some of those 300 funds in the State Agency Pool that they feel might benefit from some equity and give them some exposure to equities,” he explains. “The Legislature has to be really convinced of this decision. For those funds to be invested differently, they have to pass two-thirds of the House and two-thirds of the Senate, which is a high bar.”

He continues, “If they do pass it, then the State Loan and Investment Board (SLIB) will set an asset allocation, and we’ll move forward.”

Concerns

Over the last month, Gordon has traveled across the state of Wyoming, visiting with constituents about Amendment A. During that time, he has heard several recurring concerns from citizens.

“One of the concerns that people often ask about is, what if we have a crazy Treasurer? Can they cause problems?” Gordon says. “It is unlikely because everything the state does with its investment program  is a very considered process. It is the SLIB that selects the investment managers, sets the allocations and policies which guide the investment process.  To do that, by law, the SLIB retains a qualified investment advisor, and they have to review the entire portfolio on a quarterly basis.”

The investment advisor, RBK out of Portland, Ore., provides advice on asset allocation for funds that are invested.

“We won’t invest 100 percent in stocks,” Gordon adds. “It would be a measured approach appropriate to the specific fund with something more like at 60-40 split.”

When looking at an acceptable level of risk, Gordon notes that a number of parties come together to determine what an appropriate investment is for the state.

“SLIB, the Treasurer and the investment consultant work together to determine risk,” Gordon continues. “Over the top of that, the Select Committee on Capital Finance meets annual to look at what we’re doing.”

Gordon emphasizes that the checks and balances are in place to protect against abuses.

Another concern from Wyomingites is the risk of the stock market.

“The stock market does have risks, and there is no question in that,” says Gordon. “The bond market also has risks, and being diversified allows us to be more prudent and more defensive in asset allocation, which will ultimately help us do a better job in Wyoming.”

Liquidity

Another concern from citizens of the state is the liquidity of the account.

“Some people are worried a little about the liquidity of the account and the ability of the state to manage cash and meet our obligations,” Gordon explains. “The answer to that is that we must continue to do a very careful job of cash management and cash forecasting.”

In investing, he continues that the state will maintain an adequate buffer to ensure that the state remains liquid and able to meet obligations.

“A blend of assets helps us to maintain our liquidity, as well,” he says.

Calculated risks

Moving forward, Gordon adds that any changes in investment strategies for the state’s money will not be sudden.

“We’re looking for the opportunities available,” he says. “Right now, the stock market is valued high. Looking back at 2008, if we would have had the opportunity to invest in stocks after the recession, we could have seen substantially greater returns to the state.”

He continues that the state would not be investing all of the State Agency Pool funds in the stock market.

“We are looking at funds the could benefit from some exposure to stocks which might be around about one-third of the State Agency Pool,” he says. “The Legislature will put parameters on it. We’re only talking about a small portion of the $6 billion, and even then, the specific funds would have a blend of stocks and bonds.  Nothing would be 100 percent invested in stocks.”

Gordon notes, “There are a lot of checks and balances, and we want to protect our savings and optimize our earnings where we can.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..