Damming the flow of federal money

2013-09-09T05:00:00Z Damming the flow of federal moneyCASPER STAR-TRIBUNE EDITORIAL BOARD Casper Star-Tribune Online
September 09, 2013 5:00 am  • 

We challenge the idea that the federal government is “giving back” when it releases $40 million in mineral royalties it is legally obligated to share with Wyoming.

Isn’t it the same as taking someone’s wallet and then handing back a few dollars at your convenience?

The Mineral Lease Act outlines the money owed to states when minerals are extracted from federal land inside their borders. But — enter the sequestration law of January, and presto — the feds decided they could reduce Wyoming’s payments by millions each month.

Through some accounting gimmicks and under the guise of sequestration, the federal government was able to keep the cash sent to it from companies doing business in Wyoming rather than paying the legally set share to the state.

It’s hard to imagine that the feds themselves would applaud if you decided you weren’t going to pay your income tax until it was convenient.

Do you know of any thank-you notes sent by the IRS to people who decide to pay their taxes eight months late?

Neither do we.

After months of vigorous protest from Wyoming’s congressional delegation, governor and attorney general, along with the officials from other affected states, the Department of Interior announced in late August that it would release some of the money withheld from states.

As reported by Star-Tribune writer Kyle Roerink, the Department of Interior reacted to being hit on the head by a ton of bricks in the form of complaints from the Western Governors Association, congressional delegations, attorneys general and state treasurers.

His reporting recalled how a similar appeal in 1988 over withheld funds produced a federal appeals court statement that it could be considered a “sham” by critics to freeze payments owed to states. So the Department of Interior realized that it could, should and would release some of the money it’s been holding onto.

But it’s not really time to throw a party.

As Roerink reported, language in the Budget Control Act means that states “will have to wait until the end of each fiscal year for the next 10 years to receive the money.”

Not to sound bitter, but will there be interest payments along with that withheld money when it finally comes our way?

The problem is that the money that’s sent to states was money they were owed under federal law governing how extraction of non-replaceable resources on land inside a state should be handled. The federal government should have merely been playing the role of an accountant, collecting royalty fees and then sharing them with the states according to legal formula.

To give an idea of how important this issue is to Wyoming, consider what a big deal it has been to the state that its share of the mineral royalties was increased from

37.5 percent to 50 percent in 1976.

When Gov. Dave Freudenthal was eulogizing former U.S. Sen. Cliff Hanson, R-Wyo., in 2009, he credited Hanson’s efforts to increase the states’ share to 50 percent with bringing $2.8 billion to Wyoming during the course of 33 years.

So when the federal government decides to dam up the legally set flow of water to Wyoming, it shouldn’t expect gratitude when it changes course and releases a few gallons.

Thanks, feds, but you still owe us.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(4) Comments

  1. SteveL
    Report Abuse
    SteveL - September 13, 2013 12:10 pm
    The Federal Govenment should honor its debts. I agree, we, as a nation, should honor our debts. The debt ceiling is authorization for the America to pay bills it has already run up, not authorization for more spending - that woud be congress. The debt ceiling should not be used as a political football, especially when the misconception that increasing the debt ceiling somehow authorizes further spending is planted in the mind of the public.
  2. pappy
    Report Abuse
    pappy - September 11, 2013 1:01 pm
    I believe in the not to distant past WY and the opportunity to administer this program and chose not too because of the administrative cost. Why do federal agencies think they are immune from the law. WY and the other states should not have to go to these efforts to get what is theirs.
  3. goppoke
    Report Abuse
    goppoke - September 09, 2013 9:28 am
    A 5% cut was all it was. Wyoming should have sucked it up. Now you want interest? So Congress carries on the tradition of grabbing whatever they can for their State at the expense of future generations who will one day pay for our luxaries.
  4. Sage52
    Report Abuse
    Sage52 - September 09, 2013 6:51 am
    Quaint how so many in Wyoming who accuse non GOP members of leaching,welfare,stealing,mooching..etc. yet they run like jackals with hands out for the money when it is conveniently appropriate. Never saw so many two faced people.
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