In a bit of kismet, a column by Sam appeared this morning in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle. In it, he explores the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Trust Fund (AML) legislation, how it's helped and hurt Wyoming.
AML legislation was first passed in 1977 and mandated that a percentage of each ton of coal was designated to clean up abandoned mines. Strip mines of the West, like those in Wyoming's Powder River Basin, were taxed at $.35 per ton while underground mines of the East were taxed at $.15 per ton. Since most of the reclaimed mines were in the East, most of the $3 billion in taxes on Wyoming coal (the largest amount from any state) should have gone elsewhere. But the law also mandated that 50 percent of the taxes collected in a state would go back to that state. So it did. But since Wyoming had so few abandoned mines to reclaim, that money went to new ag facilities at Sheridan College and new classrooms at UW, facilities that normally would be paid for by its citizens.
That darn federal gubment.
In Republican Paul Ryan's Draconian budget plan, all that coal tax money would disappear. Remember, the GOP doesn't like taxes on wealthy corporations or people. The budget failed, but not before Wyoming's entire Congressional delegation, Republicans all, voted for it. Meanwhile, the 50 percent rate of return for AML funding has dropped to 48 percent, which means Wyoming loses out on millions every year. Our Congressional delegation now is backpedaling as fast as it can to save the AML funding.
Thus, this isn't a story about the AML. It's about the the reluctance of Wyoming to accept a new reality: Revenue from minerals, such as AML money, is easy to snatch, and Congress will probably use it for whatever it pleases.The matter is complicated by the unwillingness of Republicans to work across the aisle to reach a compromise on issues which would benefit the state. The doctrinaire thick-headedness of Barrasso, Enzi and Lummis, only make it inevitable that Wyoming will continue to lose federal funds. Not only will they not compromise with Democrats, they also finds compromise tough with members of their own party running for vice president.
The dilemma also reveals Wyoming's one-dimensional sense of entitlement. It's our money, we yelp, and we want it back. Now.
The reality is that over the years, Wyoming has received tens of billions of non-mineral-related money from taxpayers who don't live in the Cowboy State. In the trade-off department, Wyoming has gotten an awfully good deal.
The old era is fading. What were once Wyoming plums are now low-hanging fruit for a cash-strapped Congress to pluck for other purposes.
What a dilemma.
And Wyoming will be the loser.
This is a summary of an excellent article loaded with details. I recommend that you read it. I would send you to the WTE web site to read the entire column, but it's a terrible web site and Sam is nowhere to be found. If you get the paper, read it on the op-ed pages. If not, try the library.
You can read more of Sam's excellent work (journalism, essays and fiction) at www.samuelwestern.com
10/1/12 UPDATE: Sam's column is on wyofile. Go to http://wyofile.com/2012/09/feds-can-restrict-flow-of-mineral-revenue-to-wyoming/