Washington has stolen Wyoming’s Abandoned Mine Land Trust Fund money. This is money generated from a tax on coal mined within Wyoming, a portion of which was — by law — Wyoming’s. Funds are short, however, and this pot of money has proven irresistible for the rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul crowd in Washington.
The Surface Transportation bill passed earlier this year slashed Wyoming’s AML funds — not to help pay down our deficit — but to create a new slush fund to feed the appetites of Congress’ big spenders, of which there are plenty in both political parties.
As it is often said, people are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. That is what happened with a recent Casper Star-Tribune editorial. The paper’s editorial board accused the congressional delegation first of supporting the AML cuts. We don’t.
The Star-Tribune claims we support AML cuts because we voted for a budget proposal put forth by Rep. Paul Ryan. This is a dramatic oversimplification.
If this were the standard, it would also mean that the Star-Tribune’s support for the Simpson-Bowles budget proposal means that the newspaper supports AML cuts.
This type of thinking ignores what a budget proposal is, how the process works, and misstates the delegation’s efforts on behalf of Wyoming and the AML Trust Fund.
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The Budget Committee writes an explanation of the budget, and offers some options and suggestions on how we might reach the budget number. This year’s “illustrative policy options” offered more than 100 options for reaching the budget numbers. One suggestion was the elimination of AML payments to certified states. However, the Budget Committee does not have the authority to actually make the changes they suggest. The budget, while meaningful, does not change the law. Instead, Congress must pass every single one of those suggestions separately before they become law. It is patently false to state that a vote for the Ryan Budget was a vote to cut AML funds.
The Ryan budget numbers set the trajectory for our government in favor of lower spending, lower taxes and entitlement reforms. His budget is merely a starting point for an open and honest discussion on how to reduce the size and cost of the federal government.
The Star-Tribune also asserts that by voting for the Ryan budget, we signaled to our colleagues that this funding source was on the table. We remind them that Washington has been trying to steal Wyoming’s AML trust fund money for years. President George W. Bush and Barack Obama’s budget proposals have suggested ending Wyoming’s AML trust fund payments, as did the Deficit Commission. What is notable is that the Wyoming delegation was so successful at keeping these repeated attacks at bay that our opponents were forced to resort to dead-of-night, secret meetings, and last-second insertions of language in must-pass legislation to steal Wyoming’s money.
Finally, the CS-T offers that the delegation should have supported the termination of the AML program for the good of the country. Here the editorial board displays a lack of knowledge of the AML program. No proposal sought to eliminate the AML program in its entirety – the tax on coal and the distribution to all states, tribes and unions. Instead, all of the proposals only eliminated the benefit for Wyoming, but kept in place our liability. The money stolen from Wyoming is not being used to get the nation “out of its deficit spending quagmire,” as the CS-T writes, but rather to continue deficit spending by funding other, unrelated federal programs.
We’re stunned that the CS-T would ask us to sacrifice Wyoming’s money to create a new Washington slush fund, and then call that a win for Wyoming.
Our delegation is united in fighting for what is owed by law to Wyoming. We’re also committed to open debates, and to budgets that would improve the financial health of this country. These aren’t mutually exclusive commitments. Rather than confusing the issue, we could use all the support we can get from folks back home because we certainly aren’t getting much support from the other states who want Wyoming’s AML money.