Feb 13, 2012 - By Martin Reed Staff WriterState Sen. Eli Bebout of Riverton knows the state's two-year budget will be the focus of the Wyoming Legislature session starting Monday, but other schools and redistricting will be priorities as well.
Bebout said the budget discussion and subsequent approval will involve balancing revenues with expenditures in light of adverse affects caused by falling natural gas prices.
"Our revenues are definitely going to be down. Due to our dependence on minerals, any price increase or decrease has a huge impact," Bebout said.
Legislators are preparing for a revenue shortfall of roughly $100 million to $135 million as they head into the budget discussion, he said.
Bebout noted that natural gas prices have fallen to roughly $2.50 per 1,000 cubic feet, or mcf. The effect of a $1 change in the price of natural gas equates to a roughly $365 million impact on the state's revenue stream.
"We need to slow down state spending and appropriate at our 2011-12 levels. I am optimistic that if we do that, we will not need further reductions at this time. Having said that, we need to take a hard look at our spending levels," Bebout said.
He expressed concerns about increases in state government spending.
"The future revenue projections are not encouraging," he said.
As chairman of the Legislature's Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Commit-tee, Bebout has an intimate knowledge of efforts directed at protecting the state's revenue supply.
He said he will work to continue challenging the federal government "with their overreaching rules that are bad for our state."
Specifically, he pointed to the Bureau of Land Management's resource management plan revisions under way in the state. He thinks they could hinder economic opportunities resulting from mineral development on public lands.
"If we cannot responsibly develop our minerals, we will not have the revenues to support our state," he said.
Bebout also wants to push for streamlining the lengthy permitting process for mineral development in the state.
His committee is working to "add value to our tremendous mineral wealth by diversifying our economic portfolio."
That includes continuing efforts by the Nuclear Energy Task Force "to look at how to enhance our important uranium industry," he said.
Bebout supports ongoing participation with the Energy Producing States Coalition.
"Its mission is to have a unified approach on how to raise the debate at the national level on the federal policies relating to energy production. By having producing states working together, we have more of an impact on D.C.," he said.
Other efforts by the minerals committee include ongoing work on using carbon dioxide flooding to enhance oil production, continuing evaluations of landfill issues and ensuring contractors in Wyoming thrive with "a strong preference law," Bebout said.
Bebout also is looking to gain traction for Fremont County schools with their building prioritization, specifically for Wyoming Indian, Shoshoni and Dubois.
"Redistricting is always a challenge," he said about the process every 10 years of adjusting legislative boundaries to account for population shifts.
"I am not pleased about the proposal to move the Shoshoni area north into the Big Horn Basin, but having Dubois back in our county is a good thing," he said about the town likely returning from representation under Teton County
"The population growth or lack of in the Big Horn Basin is driving the issue," he said about the shifts affecting Fremont County.
Other issues on the senator's radar include working with Gov. Matt Mead on potential funding to deliver clean water to an area facing quality issues about five miles east of Pavillion.
He is also targeting private property rights and following efforts by the Legislature's Select Committee on Tribal Relations to work on law enforcement jurisdiction and authority on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
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