Phil Nicholas

Jimmy Emerson, Flickr Commons

This week, 9 school district superintendents met with Governor Mead to contend that the state has underfunded its K-12 schools. While Wyoming ranks near the top of the pack when it comes to per-student funding, this coalition of districts says that funding has not been properly adjusted for inflation each year—and the shortages have meant cutting crucial programs in some districts. But some lawmakers say it’s more complicated than that.

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A bill that would set up a land swap with the federal government for state-owned lands inside Grand Teton National Park is still a ways from being resolved.  Senators are leery that the state may not get fair value for state trust lands inside the park. 

The Wyoming House and Senate have agreed to changes in the state budget bill.  The bill gives public employees a roughly 2.4 percent pay hike, provides money for improvements at community colleges and the University of Wyoming, and $175 million for local governments.  Senator Eli Bebout called it a responsible budget.

Wyoming State Parks, Historic Sites & Trails

The Wyoming Senate has given initial support to a bill that would allow State Parks to use entrance fees on things besides major building projects.  But not everyone loves the idea. 

Senate Majority Floor Leader Phil Nicholas of Laramie said it was difficult to raise park fees to pay for important capital construction and major maintenance  projects and argued that it would be wrong to use the money for another purpose.

After receiving threats and attacks concerning Senators’ patriotism and support of gun rights, Senate Majority Floor Leader Phil Nicholas decided that the Senate would not debate a pair of gun rights bills.  One bill would allow local law enforcement to arrest federal officials enforcing federal gun laws in the state and the other gave the state power to keep local officials from developing their own gun regulations.  Nicholas says the bills were poorly drafted and gave one example:

In the State of the State address today, Governor Mead reiterated his proposal to redirect more money from severance taxes into the ‘rainy day account.’ One percent of severance taxes currently goes into the permanent mineral trust fund, but Governor Mead wants it to go into a legislative savings account instead. 

House Minority Leader, Mary Throne, has spoken out against having a rainy day fund so large, noting that it currently contains $5 billion. She says they need to determine how much they actually need to save.

Top Wyoming officials say congressional action to block about $700 million in federal Abandoned Mine Land payments to the state over the next 10 years threatens to be devastating to the state budget.
 
Gov. Matt Mead and Sen. Phil Nicholas, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee in the Wyoming Legislature, say the loss will leave the state hard-pressed to continue to pay for coal research and other programs it has covered with the AML dollars.

In Albany County, Republican Phil Nicholas is the incumbent for Senate District 10, but will need to win a primary election if he wants to return to the state legislature.  Nicholas is in line to become the Senate majority floor leader if he wins his re-election.  His Republican primary opponent is Anne Alexander, who’s an economics professor at University of Wyoming.

The State Senate continues working on a pair of bills intended to give the Secretary of State more power to regulate shell corporations or those who operate without significant investments or operations in the state.  Senator Phil Nicholas successfully lowered possible penalties for people in Wyoming who act as registered agents, and says that’s because they are not the people likely to commit fraud.

Senator Phil Nicholas has decided to remove himself from sponsoring a funding request for the Laramie Aquifer leaving Laramie Democrat Chris Rothfuss to oversee that effort.  Nicholas was accused of having a conflict of interest in brokering a land deal for his client, former legislator Doug Samuelson.  The proposal was to have the state buy Samuelson’s land and turn it into a state park.  Laramie citizens then could have access to the property and it would prevent development from occurring above the Laramie aquifer. 

Top Wyoming lawmakers are directing state agencies to brace for possible budget cuts.

Republican Sen. Phil Nicholas, of Laramie, and Republican Rep. Rosie Berger, of Big Horn, are co-chairmen of the Joint Appropriations Committee. They wrote a letter telling state budget officials that agencies should be prepared for cuts ranging up to 8 percent in the coming two-year budget cycle.