By Ramsey Scott
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE – Gov. Mark Gordon on Friday used his veto pen on two bills, one of which would have authorized the Legislature to sue to allow Wyoming’s coal to be exported through Washington state.
Gordon also declined to sign several more bills he saw as problematic, including a bill to prevent county commissioners from creating special zoning regulations for private schools.
While Gordon agreed Wyoming should sue Washington over the refusal to allow Wyoming coal to be shipped overseas out of the state’s ports, he vetoed House Bill 251 to prevent confusion and redundant lawsuits.
Gordon said the state has worked to form a coalition of landlocked states to fight the issue, as well as filing an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit brought by an energy company to open the ports to coal exports.
“We all recognize how important coal is to our state, and I mentioned in my State of the State speech that I believe the actions of Washington state were actually a restraint of trade,” Gordon said during a ceremony Friday. “It is not for any reason that I think the Legislature is wrong in this. It’s just the confusion (with dual lawsuits). We’re both united in protecting Wyoming coal and its access to markets.”
HB 251’s sponsor Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, lamented Gordon’s decision in a statement after the veto Friday. He claimed the veto would be harmful to Wyoming’s efforts to find markets for Wyoming coal.
“The veto is detrimental to efforts to protect the coal industry from a radical Leftist political ideology that seeks to put it out of business by any means necessary,” Gray said in the statement.
The other bill Gordon vetoed, House Bill 120, would have exempted yet-to-be used equipment for energy production, like wind turbine blades, from property taxes while being stored in Wyoming. Gordon said the bill had merit, but didn’t clearly define what equipment it wanted to capture in the exemptions. It also would have unintended consequences that would adversely affect county revenues.
Gordon foresaw instances where the equipment was stored in one county, but moved to another county for installation. In that case, the county that is currently seeing property tax revenue from the storage would lose out, and the county where the equipment would eventually be used would be the beneficiary.
“Exemptions, once they go into the tax code, rarely get fixed. I have recommended that the Legislature look at this over the coming year,” Gordon said.
Gordon elected to allow Senate File 49, which will prevent county commissioners from creating special zoning regulations for private schools, to pass into law. The legislation means private schools will be allowed the same zoning exemptions public schools have from county regulations.
But Gordon declined to give it his signature in part because he believed there are more viable solutions state and local governments could come to if the issue continues to be worked.
“Ultimately, the big issue for me is how do we move this forward? If the veto had gone through, would it have been sustained? Would it not? Where would this have moved the issue? If it had been signed, same question. Is the issue over and done with, or do we still have more work to do?” Gordon said after the bill signing ceremony. “I felt very strongly we have more work to do on this issue, and I want to work on it. That’s why I tried to use (not signing it) as a way to move forward.”
SF 49, sponsored by Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, was one of the big bills this past session pushed by Foster Friess, the GOP mega-donor and former gubernatorial candidate. His son, Steve Friess, funds the Jackson Hole Classical Academy, which had been prevented from building a new campus by the Teton County commissioners. The plans had been rejected based on the size of the planned campus.