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Miller: Let cities tax themselves
Feb 5, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer
The Riverton Republican also has a bill encouraging state investment in a West Coast coal port.
As the 2014 legislative session approaches, state State Rep. Dave Miller, R-Riverton, is working on several bills and is hopeful about Fremont County issues at the state level.
Miller plans to introduce a bill allowing a municipality to vote to impose a mill levy on itself, an idea the seven-term legislator has floated before.
Currently, local optional taxes have to be countywide, Miller said, which is troublesome for cities and towns in counties with other large municipalities.
"Say Lander wanted to build a community center, and the people of Lander wanted to tax themselves to pay for it," Miller said. "How many people in the rest of Fremont County would vote for it?"
Miller, beginning his 13th year in the House representing District 55, also is drafting a bill intended to increase demand for and production of Wyoming coal. The state would benefit from increased mineral severance tax revenue.
"My idea was Wyoming would make some money available to help pay for the construction of a West Coast port if it exclusively handles Wyoming coal," he said. "Coal is a big chunk of revenues headed into our state coffers."
Recently, coal production and state revenue from mining the mineral have decreased, Miller said.
Ultimately, though, he hopes the prospect of state government of building a coal port would spur private industry to build one, and Wyoming could step back, Miller said. The private sector would want to finance the port because it could generate more profits from owning it, he said.
Though overall state revenue is up this year, it is only so because investment income increased, Miller said, and the trend could reverse. Fremont County residents would benefit from increased coal mining because taxes on it pay for everything from K-12 education to Lander's Wyoming Life Resource Center, he said.
Rumblings at the federal level about ceasing payments in lieu of taxes have Miller concerned as well. He has drafted a bill that would allow counties to impose a lien on federal lands if the U.S. government does not continue PILT. R32;Through PILT, the federal government gives payments to local governments for revenues they lose for not being able to tax federal real property.
The liens ultimately would be a tool for Wyoming to use to extract PILT from the federal government, Miller said.
"I think Fremont County needs to put a lien on (Bureau of Land Management property), and if the government doesn't pay their tax lien, then it's sold at the Fremont County Courthouse just like anybody else's land," he said. "I think what's going to happen is the state would eventually buy the lien, and the state would have a claim to the BLM land."
Fremont County commissioners are counting on a $10 million fund for court security included in draft versions of the state budget. Miller believes that money is a "done deal."
"I believe it's part of the governor's budget, and it's passed through the (Joint) Appropriations Committee untouched," he said. "I think it's pretty much in the budget and will pass."
He is also believes the Wyoming Life Resource Center will stay open without significant changes.
"For the short term future, the way the Life Resource Center is handled will not change, and also, the study (initiated by the state legislature in 2013) recognized a facility like the Life Resource Center is needed," he said. "I think that is all good for Lander that the state recognizes the facility is needed and the money remains there for the foreseeable future.'
The Environmental Protection Agency's recent decision about the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation concerned Miller so much he started to draft a bill reacting to it.
EPA's determination stated that lands at issue in a 1905 act of Congress opening the reservation for non-Indian settlement, including Riverton, were never removed formally from the reservation and are still part of it.
Miller's bill would say state government recognizes the 1905 areas in dispute as not being part of the reservation.
He does not now think such a bill is necessary because the governor's and attorney general's offices have taken up the issue, Miller said.