CASPER, Wyo. — Happy Monday out there everyone and welcome to the latest edition of Oil City Speaks! Do you sense some spring energy in the buzz around Casper and Wyoming?
What caught your attention most this past week? Rep. Liz Cheney being tossed from her House leadership position? The talk about a special election for a temporary sixth cent tax in Natrona County? Casper City Council member Bruce Knell accusing fellow members of breaking their oath to the U.S. and Wyoming Constitution? We’ve gathered some hot takes, thought-provoking comments, heart-warmers and head-scratching views readers have submitted to these stories and more. Let’s spring on in!
Republicans in the House held a voice vote on Wednesday and decided to remove Cheney from the No. 3 position in GOP House leadership. Cheney has been vocal in her criticism of former President Donald Trump for helping to incite the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, a stance which is at odds with many in her political party.
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That was a driving factor behind her being “cancelled” by her Republican colleagues last week. “Cancel culture” refers to “removing of support for public figures in response to their objectionable behavior or opinions,” according to Merriam-Webster’s definition of the term. “Cancel culture” has typically been used to refer to things like celebrities losing jobs, having their film projects cancelled or being boycotted by members of the public over questionable statements they have made or questionable behaviors they have displayed.
Some conservatives have criticized what they see as over-reach and irrationality at the heart of “cancel culture” and others saw the GOP’s decision to remove Cheney as evidence that “cancel culture” is by no means a phenomenon exclusive to the political left.
We found Daniel’s comment thought-provoking in that he asks people to keep an eye toward the whole stretch of human history when viewing the present. Is “cancel culture” really a new thing or is it just a new word for an age-old aspect of the way humans make and break the meaning of things?
During the council’s Tuesday, May 11 work session, Knell accused fellow members Shawn Johnson, Amber Pollock and Kyle Gamroth of breaking their oath to both the U.S. and Wyoming Constitution for their opposition to authorizing the Casper Police Department to accept $35,000 in DEA “cannabis suppression” funding.
Knell argued that they had broken their oaths because marijuana remains illegal federally and in Wyoming. After others, including City Attorney John Henley, pointed out that marijuana is illegal under legal statute and is not illegal under the Constitution, Knell walked back his comments and apologized to Johnson, Pollock and Gamroth.
Brandon’s comment is thought-provoking because it suggests the unconstitutional action in relation to the cannabis suppression funding was not those council members who opposed authorizing the Casper PD to accept that funding, but possibly the manner in which a March 29-30 “drug interdiction operation” in which law enforcement agencies in the area arrested 23 people was carried out.
The Casper PD said the operation involved officers “more readily” conducting traffic stops in targeted areas of the community when they observed alleged traffic violations: “If the traffic stop interaction between the officer and individual(s) inside the vehicle shows potential evidence of illegal substance use or presence, the officer has additional resources readily available to conduct a further investigation.”
Johnson said during the work session he has concerns about police operations funded by federal grants that may violate people’s Fourth Amendment rights.
The Fourth Amendment is as follows: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Brandon appears to share those concerns. What do you think? Do you have concerns that police operations may sometimes overstep the bounds of the Fourth Amendment? Are you concerned that an elected official who voted in favor of the Casper PD accepting the DEA funding himself didn’t have a clear understanding of the difference between what is illegal under a statutory law versus what is or isn’t allowed under the Constitution?
This comment is what we consider a head-scratcher because it seems to confuse issues that have to do with different organizations. Sear mentions the temporary “sixth cent” sales and use tax which is being talked about by the Natrona County Commissioners and the various municipalities in the county. The NCHS pool, on the other hand is a project approved by the Natrona County School District Board of Trustees and funded by State of Wyoming school capital construction dollars.
If the Natrona County Commissioners, the City of Casper, the City of Mills, the Town of Evansville or others were opposed to the NCHS pool project they wouldn’t have any direct control over that decision. That is an NCSD project and an NCSD Board of Trustees decision. Conversely, if the NCSD Board of Trustees wanted or didn’t want a sixth cent imposed in the county, they would have no direct control over that decision.
When Sear says “you are” asking for a “sixth cent” tax, it is vague who the “you” is that is being referred to. Is NCSD asking for a sixth cent tax? No. Is Natrona County or the City of Casper asking for an NCHS pool? No.
We see quite a few head-scratching comments here and there which seem to confuse different governing bodies with one another and we know it can get confusing to know which project is a city project, which is a school board project, which is a county project and which is a state project, etc.
Why do you think it is hard for people to keep track of this? Is it an education problem or is the political system overly complicated and too hard for anyone to follow? If you think it is too complicated, why do you think that is? Is it helpful to have decision making power spread across a variety of different bodies? Or is that structure too fractured?
- Since Sear brought up the temporary “sixth cent” topic, let’s look at another head-scratching comment:
There is discussion in Natrona County about holding a special election in November for voters to consider a so-called “sixth cent” sales and use tax. That tax would indeed be temporary as Wyoming law doesn’t allow the “sixth cent” tax to become permanent.
It would only be imposed so long as is takes to raise enough funding for specific, voter-approved projects. While those projects have not yet been set in stone, the two which municipalities in Natrona along with the NC Commission are looking at include: 1. the Midwest Avenue reconstruction project in downtown Casper between Walnut and Poplar Street and 2. a project to replace about six miles of water pipeline along Salt Creek Highway near the Town of Midwest and the Town of Edgerton.
Together, about $4.2 million would be needed for the two projects. If voters approve the temporary “sixth cent” tax, it would be imposed on a quarterly basis until that much funding has been collected, which would likely take two quarters of the year at most.
Why is it called a “sixth cent” tax? Wyoming has a statewide 4% sales and use tax. Counties are able to impose an additional 1% general purpose tax, sometimes called the “fifth cent” tax. Wyoming law allows an extra 1% local tax for specific purpose projects. If a county already has a “fifth cent” that extra, temporary 1% tax brings the sales tax to 6% — hence the name “sixth cent.” Wyoming law also allows a so-called “seventh penny” municipal tax for either general or specific purposes. The Wyoming Legislature added this municipal tax option in legislation passed in 2020.
Heather’s comment is a bit of a head-scratcher in that it suggest the “fifth cent” in Natrona County is permanent. Natrona County has asked voters to approved the fifth cent every four years and voters have so far always supported it. If it is seen as “permanent,” then this comes from voters repeatedly choosing to support it.
Wyoming law does provide a way in which the “fifth cent” could become semi-permanent. Counties can ask voters to support making a “fifth cent” tax permanent and if voters approve a permanent fifth cent tax.
Wyoming’s tax laws can get confusing. In Natrona County, the “fifth cent” has commonly been referred to as the “one cent” tax. It is not the only tax which can be confusing to understand in Wyoming, as came up in our coverage of the water pipeline project benefitting Midwest and Edgerton.
- Let’s take a look at some thought-provoking comments from readers who think voters should consider supporting the “sixth cent” if it means ensuring Midwest and Edgerton have a reliable source of water for the next 25-30 years:
We mentioned above there was another tax structure which people might find confusing in Wyoming. That is the way that minerals such as oil and gas in the state are taxed. This came up while we were looking into the proposed water pipeline project since Midwest and Edgerton support work in the Salt Creek Oil Field. We wanted to know how much tax revenue production in the Salt Creek Oil Field generates for Natrona County and the state.
That proved to be quite a complicated question to answer. Wyoming imposes a 6% severance tax on oil production based on the fair market value of oil. In addition, “ad valorum” or property taxes of around 6% are imposed based on the productivity of the oil field. Those taxes benefit counties. Salt Creek is in both Natrona and Campbell County.
Things get more complicated when production occurs on federal land or a mix of state, federal and private land. We’re still looking for a pithy way to describe how minerals are taxed in Wyoming. Do you have any recommendations? How do you make sense of things?
We wound up with a conservative estimate that the Salt Creek Oil Field has generated at least around $20 million in tax revenue for Wyoming, Natrona and Campbell County each year from 2016-2020. Midwest and Edgerton are looking for around $2 million in support from the sixth cent to for the water pipeline replacement project.
What do you think of the proposal? Does the temporary “sixth cent” concept appeal to you? Do you find the whole thing confusing? What would help you understand things better, whether that relates to the “sixth cent,” energy taxes in Wyoming or anything else about how public business gets done in the Cowboy State?
Other readers said they have been experiencing difficulty finding work. That prompted still more people to encourage those looking for work to apply at fast food restaurants or other jobs which might not pay much.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25/hr, though President Joe Biden recently ordered that the minimum wage paid to federal contractors be raised to $15. Wyoming’s minimum wage sits at $5.15/hr. Seven Wyoming legislators sponsored a bill during the spring session to raise Wyoming’s minimum wage to $15/hr, but that concept found no legs.
Wyoming’s U.S. Sen. John Barrasso has argued that raising the federal minimum wage to $15/hr would hurt Wyoming small businesses and kill jobs. On the other hand, a 2020 report found that anything less than $10.24/hr is not enough for a single individual to be self-sufficient in Wyoming.
While a single adult might be able to scrape by in Wyoming on a wage under $15/hr, such a wage isn’t enough in any county of the state for one adult raising one pre-school aged child, according to the report prepared by Dr. Diana M. Pearce for the Wyoming Women’s Foundation.
Is it possible that some people might accept a low paying job and be in worse financial circumstances than if they were on unemployment? What do you think about that type of situation? Do you think people stay on unemployment because they are lazy or is it because they truly can’t find work? Or is it because the work that is available pays too little? Or some combination of all of these factors? And what do you think of Dennis’s hot take which suggests raising the minimum wage might encourage people to accept positions they might otherwise avoid?
The new memorial will be placed at the Patterson-Zonta Park in Casper in order to ensure people with disabilities can enjoy it from the comfort of their vehicles. An existing memorial along the Platte River Trail may not be accessible to everyone and the new memorial will also have the advantage of being more visible to people driving by.
It is heart-warming to catch a glimpse of the care that is behind the project and to see that the Casper American Legion’s efforts have a direct impact on someone like Beverly’s life.
Joey and Kinlee came up with the idea for the camp following Kinlee’s successful return to playing basketball and volleyball after she had to have her spleen removed due to a bad case of ITP.
The summer camp is a way to energize Evansville’s youth and the town’s Stoneking Park. Joey is also organizing a three-point contest for later in the summer to benefit the #SavingSammy campaign. Heart-warming stuff for sure!
Leah is the only high school student from Wyoming selected for the band, but she won’t be the only Wyomingite at the Rose Parade. Her father, KW Band Director Brent Rose, and her uncle, Sheridan High School Band Director Chad Rose, have been selected by “Saluting America’s Band Directors” to perform alongside 300 music educators across the country in the “Marching Band of Band Directors” during the 2022 Rose Parade.
Congratulations to all three! And hopefully heart warming marching band news puts a little pep in everyone’s step this week!
- That’s all from Oil City Speaks for now! Disagree with anything we said? Great! Feel free to get involved with discussion about what’s happening in our community by commenting on stories posted to Oil City’s Facebook page. Have a great day!
Why are we putting together this Oil City Speaks story?
Oil City News is all about offering coverage of the people, places and events that shape the community we love. We strive to provide informative stories for our readers and value dialogue about the Casper area community and the Cowboy State.
What makes for a valuable online discussion? It is no secret that readers are sometimes wary about the “dreaded” comments section (on stories posted to Oil City’s Facebook page). While comments may seem frustrating at times, they can also allow people to voice their perspectives, add more information for readers to consider or give people a way to celebrate their community together.
That’s why we’re bringing you Oil City Speaks, a selection of noteworthy reader comments from our local coverage. We care that you care about your community and we want to take the time to recognize comments that stand out to us. We’ll also offer some fact-checking on comments.
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