CHEYENNE, Wyo. — State Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau shed a tear Tuesday as he gave his first speech as the chamber’s new leader.
The Gillette Republican told his son that he will have to find a new math partner for the next eight weeks. “But I am available by phone if you got problems,” Lubnau said.
After thanking his friends and family, Lubnau vowed that no tax dollar will be wasted in the 62nd legislative session.
“Our primary tax-paying mineral industries are not as robust as they once were,” he said. “Our coal industry is under stress from environmental and international forces.”
Lubnau said coal production is down 9 percent from 2011, meaning a $135 million loss in revenue for the state.
He said he will look for ways to get Wyoming coal to international markets and bring back energy dollars that the country has been sending overseas.
A gain in coal revenue will be a way for the state to recover from a decline in natural gas prices. The state won’t see the price of natural gas at $10 per 1,000 cubic feet “in the near future,” Lubnau said. And with every $1 decline in the price equating to a $134 million decline in tax revenue, the state “needs to be prudent with guarding our treasuries,” he said.
“The key to economic prosperity for this entire nation boils down to a few questions: What is it that other people and other countries want?” he said.
Lubnau asked lawmakers in his chamber to consider increasing the state fuel tax. Wyoming has the highest cost of maintaining highways per citizen, Lubnau said, and the Legislature has been robbing other funds to pay for highway maintenance for the past six years.
“No one wants to pay more taxes, and no one wants to vote to raise taxes. But it is time we have adult conversations about the financial realities of maintaining our roads,” he said.
House Majority Floor Leader Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, followed suit with Lubnau on the fuel tax. He urged his fellow lawmakers to support the proposed 10-cent increase to 24 cents per gallon.
Wyoming is recognized as one of the best states in the country for many reasons, Brown said. But one sticks out: fiscal responsibility.
“It involves value judgments and difficult decisions,” he said.
Lubnau expects spirited, lively and civil debates among lawmakers in the House this session.
“We need to disagree. We need to test. We need to probe,” he said.
House Minority Floor Leader Mary Throne, D-Laramie, supports dipping into the state's $1.5 billion in “rainy-day” savings instead of imposing a fuel tax increase.
“How much money should we save and under what circumstances should we spend?” she said.
The task of legislators is to examine decisions from a different era and see if they’re still right for Wyoming, she said.
Throne was referring to the rate of savings in the state's permanent mineral trust fund, which has more than $5 billion. Gov. Matt Mead proposed diverting 1 percent of the money that usually flows into the trust fund to help pay for the highways.
Despite the tough fiscal decisions facing the state, Throne ended her speech with a call for cooperation.
“We are all in this together,” she said.