By on December 31, 2014

PROPSFistbumpBare minimum doesn’t cut it

One clear way to assess whether your politician has a Democratic heart or a Republican heart is to watch how they vote next month on a bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Byrd, a Democrat from Cheyenne.

Byrd is proposing a hike in the state minimum wage. It currently sits at a measly $5.15 an hour. Last year, Byrd’s suggestion to boost the minimum wage to $9 an hour was shot down.

Republicans will argue that the market should determine an employee’s worth. Most conservatives also claim an increase in pay will result in an increase in goods and services down the line. Democrats point to studies like the one done by MIT, which calculated the average living wage for an adult and two children at $20.89 an hour for Wyoming.

Paying $5.15 an hour targets desperate immigrants while single parent families also suffer. It’s time to urge employers to compensate their people fairly.

PROPSFistbumpOnly the hardy need apply

Although Teton County officials are hell bent on encouraging growth and population boom, year-end news from the Wyoming Economic Analysis Division is encouraging for all the right reasons.

The latest data shows more people moved out of Wyoming than moved in last year. It’s the first time the state has experienced a net loss in population since 2001. And it’s the sole reason this columnist moved here.

Wyoming should offer desolation, solitude, open spaces and massive elbowroom. But state leaders encourage business growth in the form of tax incentives or no corporate taxes at all. It’s fine to diversify state economy to hedge against downturns in any one sector, but why invite just anyone here to the Equality State?

Wyoming has never been a place where just anyone can hack it. The Cowboy State was populated with the mentally tough, spirited individual who yearned to learn what was on the other side of the western hill that framed his Pennsylvania farm. When we throw the doors open to just any Jim Dandy, they tend to want to tweak the state into something they remember from their cushier life back home.

Wyoming remains the least populated state (thank goodness) at an estimated 584,000 residents. We still rank 41st for population growth. These are good things, encouraging numbers. You can have your traffic, crime and standing in line for a morning bagel. Just take it to a state where they accept just anyone.

Where is everybody? Desolation Row in Jeffrey City. PHOTO: LELAND RUCKER

Where is everybody? Desolation Row in Jeffrey City. PHOTO: LELAND RUCKER

PROPSFistbumpOil vey! A crude way to live and die

Falling fuel prices should boost tourism in Wyoming. That’s the first element of positive news stemming from the poor oil outlook currently dragging down the global economy. It’s a “good news/bad news” scenario that has the Cowboy State both optimistic and anxious as 2014 draws to a close.

The litmus test for a barrel of crude oil has always hovered around the magic $100 mark. Light crude is currently trading at less than $55 a barrel – a new low that threatens state coffers even as it delights motorists and those tied to the tourism industry.

A supply glut propelled mainly by increased domestic production has resulted in plummeting oil prices – good for travelers but a scary scenario for Wyoming, which relies heavily on its energy extraction. North Dakota’s Bakken play, along with the Texas Eagle Ford, are helping drive down crude oil prices. Wyoming has done its part, too. Powder River Basin daily production reached 78,000 barrels this year – double the output of 2009.

OPEC asserts they will not cut production to stimulate a price increase so it looks like the two-edged sword is here to stay for a while. Wall Street may panic but Main Street is putting a tiger in its tank. For cheap.

About Jake Nichols

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