Current Edition

current edition

It seems every time we open the paper or watch the news, there is a story about the downturn in the energy markets and the resulting budget troubles the downturn causes for the state of Wyoming. Of particular concern in these discussions is the predicted shortfalls in future education funding. The conversations about how to resolve this significant problem are already underway, and the state has smart people working on the problem from multiple angles. The resolution of the problem is likely going to take numerous ideas and contributions from many different sources.   

As I read these articles, I can’t help but reflect on the mission of my office, the nature of the lands that we manage and the components we and our industry partners provide in the solution of this problem. 

In particular, among other things, my office is responsible for managing the lands that were granted to the state when we became a state. At that time, various land grants were made to the state from the federal government. Each land grant was made for a particular purpose and to support a particular institution or beneficiary organization, for example, the penitentiary or the state hospital. 

The bulk of the land granted to the state was “for the support of the common schools,” or generally, K-12 education. Eighty-six percent of the land managed by my office is managed for the support of the common schools. These lands are held in trust and managed for the benefit of education in the state. The Board of Land Commissioners is the trustee of these lands. My office, the Office of State Lands and Investments (OSLI), is the administrative arm of the Board of Land Commissioners doing the day-to-day work of managing the state trust lands.     

Given the purpose for which these lands were granted to the state, the lands must be managed to generate and optimize revenue for current and future generations. The revenue generated from school trust land assets is placed into either the common school permanent land fund or the common school permanent land income fund. Generally speaking, income generated from depletable resources, like land sales or mineral production, is placed in the permanent land fund. Those funds are then invested to generate income which the legislature can appropriate for education. Income generated from non-depletable resources, like grazing and agriculture leasing or other surface uses, is placed in the permanent income fund and is immediately available for the legislature to appropriate for education. 

In 2017, my office generated approximately $257 million in revenue from the state trust lands, and $235 million of that went to the common school funds. Of that, surface uses contributed $44 million in revenue. Unlike revenue from depleting sources, that revenue went to the permanent land income fund and was immediately available for the legislature to appropriate for education funding. 

Although the revenue generated from the surface uses is a smaller percentage of the overall revenue generated for the common school accounts, it is a tremendously important piece. In particular, grazing and agricultural is the most prevalent use of state trust land. Ninety percent of the land that my office manages is under a grazing and agricultural lease. The revenue generated by grazing and agricultural leasing is a consistent and dependable source of revenue that we rely on to help fund education. Unlike revenue from depletable resources, the revenue generated from grazing and agricultural leasing is available every year for appropriation. 

In addition to the revenue contributed by our grazing and agriculture lessees, our lessees also provide significant intangible benefits to the state trust lands.  Our office is charged with managing 3.5 million surface acres scattered across the state. We cannot feasibly visit or manage all of those acres on a day-to-day basis, and we therefore rely on our lessees to help us manage the land and be our eyes and ears on the ground. This important function guarantees that the state trust lands will be productive for many years to provide revenue for future generations of school children.

In that regard, our lessees are an important component in the education funding picture, providing a stable and reliable source of income that can be counted on as the state tries to resolve the education funding problem. As we all strive to consider new ideas and explore new sources of revenue, it is comforting to me to have the consistent and reliable agriculture industry as a partner, not just for the revenue dollars you contribute but also for the reminder that Wyoming people are tough, resilient and resourceful and with that sort of character, we will figure out how to weather this budget storm. 

If we need to know whether municipal landfills must be tested for groundwater contamination or if hunters with physical disabilities can hunt from stationary vehicles or whether importers can bring one-hump camels into the state, the answers should not be buried in government regulations. Regulations should be easily available, understandable and assist us in complying.

When rules and regulations are obscure, overly complicated or difficult to find, state government is not doing its job. Rules that do not serve the public interest should be rooted out. Fewer and more clear-cut rules reduce the burden on people and businesses, while accomplishing their goal. 

In 2013, as part of my commitment to streamline government, I asked state agencies to reduce existing rules by one-third in number and one-third in length. Regulations should be limited to those that are necessary and effective. I urged agencies to use more precise, plain language and to eliminate rules that no longer served their original purpose.

Wyoming has made major progress. Most agencies have reduced rules by the one-third in the number and length. Many agencies have been able to eliminate 50 percent or more of their regulations. This means simpler, more accessible rules – rules necessary to do business and provide protection without the excess. 

Another success of this initiative is the creation of a new administrative rules website maintained by the Secretary, of State’s Office and found at rules.wyo.gov. In years past, searching for state rules could be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Determining which agency maintained which rules was time consuming and laborious. This website makes it easy to find current, proposed and past rules.

As an example, if you need to find rules on public swimming pool health and safety, a simple and swift key word search on the new website leads to the Department of Agriculture’s regulations on the subject. All administrative rules and rules history are searchable online and available to anyone.  Public comment on proposed rules may be made directly using the public comment link on the website.  

Uniform rules have been adopted for actions that are common among various agencies. Contested cases are one example. Historically, each agency had agency-specific contested case rules. One agency might allow 45 days to file an objection, another agency 30 days. The lack of uniformity and consistency was confusing. Now, uniform rules apply to contested case practice and procedure. 

Another good illustration is public records requests. Agencies receive many requests under the Wyoming Public Records Act ranging from correspondence on homelessness to grizzly bear and gray wolf management. Procedures varied widely agency to agency. Now, uniform rules on procedures and fees related to inspection, copying and production of public documents are being adopted by agencies. This will provide greater accountability, easier access and more effective protections. 

As for landfills, disabled hunters and one-hump camels, a few clicks on the state’s new rules website reveals that every municipal landfill is tested for groundwater contamination, hunters with physical disabilities may obtain permits to shoot wildlife from stationary vehicles not located on public roadways, and disease-free camels may legally roam the Wyoming plains and prairie.

Regulatory reform and rules reduction are delivering greater accountability, discipline and transparency to state government and easing the burden on people and businesses.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), nicknamed “The People’s Department” by President Abraham Lincoln, was established in May of 1862. USDA is currently made up of multiple agencies and offices, one of which is the Farm Service Agency (FSA).

FSA’s mission is to equitably serve all farmers, ranchers and agricultural partners through the delivery of effective, efficient agricultural programs for all Americans. These programs include conservation, commodity, farm loans and disaster assistance.

FSA oversees a number of voluntary conservation-related programs aimed at addressing farming- and ranching-related conservation issues, such as preservation and restoration of forests and wetlands, the reduction of soil erosion, loss of wildlife habitat and drinking water protection.

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) was signed into law in 1985. The program pays a yearly rental payment in exchange for farmers removing environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and planting species that will improve environmental quality. CRP contracts are 10 to 15 years in length. The long-term goal of the program is to re-establish valuable land cover to help improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and reduce loss of wildlife habitat.

FSA’s farm loan programs offer farmers and ranchers access to credit to start, improve, expand, transition and strengthen their farming operations. FSA loans can be either direct loans, where the funding comes directly from FSA, or guaranteed loans, where the borrower works with a lending institution and FSA provides a loan guarantee. 

An example of one of our successful direct loan programs is FSA microloans. Microloans offer more flexible access to credit and serve as an attractive loan alternative for smaller farming operations. There are two types of microloans, farm operating loans and farm ownership loans.

FSA provides recovery assistance to producers through numerous disaster assistance programs. The Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) provides financial assistance to producers of noninsurable crops when low yields, loss of inventory or prevented planting occur due to natural disasters. The Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) aids livestock producers who have suffered grazing losses due to a qualifying drought condition during the normal grazing period for the county.

Producers who suffer livestock losses due to a natural disaster can turn to FSA’s Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP). Other programs that help recover from physical farm damage, loss of feed or other crop losses include the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP), Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP) and the Tree Assistance Program (TAP).

The Marketing Assistance Loan (MAL) program allows farmers to obtain a short-term loan using their commodities as collateral. This gives farmers interim financing during harvest time when crop prices tend to be lower and gives flexibility to market their crops at a later date. When that harvest is really abundant, FSA offers low interest loans for on-farm storage and handling equipment through the Farm Storage Facility Loan (FSFL) program.

FSA also offers Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs. ARC provides revenue loss coverage at the county level. Payments are issued when the actual county crop revenue of a covered commodity is less than the county guarantee for the covered commodity. PLC payments are issued when the effective price of a covered commodity is less than the respective reference price. The effective price equals the higher of the market year average price or the national average loan rate for the covered commodity.

Whether you’re just getting started in production agriculture or have a well-established operation, FSA is here to assist.

For more information about FSA programs, contact your local FSA office or visit fsa.usda.gov. To find your local FSA office, visit offices.usda.gov.

The State of Wyoming was granted certain lands by the federal government when it was admitted into the Union in 1890. These lands now total 3.5 million surface acres and 3.9 million subsurface acres and are held in trust for the benefit of several beneficiaries, the largest of which is the K-12 school system. They are managed under the authority of the Wyoming Board of Land Commissioners for the benefit and support of the state’s public schools, among other designated beneficiaries.

Finding ways to optimize the value of these state trust lands in perpetuity is an important duty as a member of the Board of Land Commissioners. Last year, Wyoming’s state trust lands generated $256,792,255 in total revenue.

Wyoming is fortunate to have conservative leadership since statehood to preserve the permanent trust fund. We have successfully managed these assets for 127 years.  As of May 2017, Wyoming’s Permanent Land Fund has a market value of $4.1 billion, the earnings from which assist in funding K-12 education in our state. 

As early as 1911, many states began a downward spiral of mismanagement of their trust lands, which spurred a study conducted by Dr. Fletcher Harper Swift of Columbia University. This analysis determined that two-thirds of the lands and funds were “squandered or lost.” A closer look at the results from 1911 show that the trustees made some mistakes in management of their assets. These mistakes included the diversion of funds for purposes other than school funding, a lack of responsibility or authority, carelessness or incompetence in management and inadequate oversight by public officials, overwhelmed with other responsibilities.

With the decline of our mineral and severance tax revenues, management is even more important today. Management of these lands and the investment of the revenue generated to support our public institutions and education is vital to the success of our children.

In 1896, Wyoming’s State Auditor William Owen issued the Annual Report showing the balance in the common school trust fund was $29,335. In his report, Auditor Owen stated, “The revenue thus obtained now amounts to no inconsiderable sum and should be utilized at the earliest possible time.”

Auditor Owen continued, “It is therefore recommended that suitable legislation be enacted to make these various funds available at once.”

In 1916, 20 years later, we had a balance of over $1 million.  These funds are still available and are being used today.    

There is a strong debate currently about the state’s decreased revenues and the education funding gap. Historically, children attended school for fewer years and didn’t demand the same level of investment we experience today. Our education system has changed dramatically since 1890.

Since then, the modern education system has been expanded to include all grades from kindergarten through 12th grade, with more subjects and areas of interest being offered. This adds pressure to the ability to provide adequate funding without supplementing. Funds expected to be used for Wyoming’s education system are projected to be approximately $400 million below projections.

A key to good stewardship is protecting these lands from misuse and abuse to optimize the monetary returns to the state’s trust beneficiaries. During my tenure as State Auditor on the Board of Land Commissioners, I have witnessed instances of a lack of diligent care on behalf of some citizens utilizing these lands in areas around the state. I believe this lack of care is a direct result of a lack of awareness and education as to the importance of these lands to our citizens.

For example, on a parcel of state trust land in Natrona County, art was intentionally shot to pieces and left, along with other junk debris. In Big Horn County, we spent over $3 million cleaning up a dumping ground. In Campbell County, state trust land enrolled in a Game and Fish Walk-In Area had animal carcasses, gun casings, computers and other junk debris repeatedly dumped and shot at. A safety concern was also realized when a high-caliber round shot from this property entered a shop with the owner inside. In Laramie County, a fire was started due to the use of explosive targets on state trust land after the parcel had been restricted to no vehicular use from junk debris being dumped. These are a few of the many examples of incidents that have occurred on your state trust lands.

Incidents like these can reduce the value of a parcel and its revenue generating potential. In addition, the increase in expenditures and staff time to clean up the property costs the state several thousand dollars each year.

My tenure on the Board has demonstrated that our younger generation has to take the torch and begin taking care of these trust lands. Educating our youth on the purpose and value of the lands is important to conserve and protect these lands for our future.