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Western Lawmakers Push To Restore Mineral Funds

By BEN NEARY

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) â¿¿ A bipartisan group of western lawmakers is pushing legislation in Washington to restore cuts of $110 million in federal mineral royalty payments to 35 states.

Senators from New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah and Idaho signed onto legislation introduced Tuesday by Sen. Mike Enzi, a Wyoming Republican. Similar legislation was introduced in the House by Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.

The bills would allow states to collect royalty payments directly from companies that produce minerals from federal lands within their borders while placing the states' share off-limits to federal budget cuts.

Mineral-producing states and the federal government traditionally have split the proceeds 50-50, but the cuts this year under the federal budget reduction law would take more than 5 percent from the states' share. Wyoming is the nation's largest coal-producing state and stands to lose $53 million in this year's cuts while New Mexico, the next-highest state, would lose $26 million.

Federal officials have said they have no choice about the cuts, which they regard the same as any other government appropriations. Western lawmakers, however, say their states have a right to the money and that it ought to be off-limits to budget cuts.

In addition to prohibiting the federal government from withholding mineral royalties, the legislation introduced Tuesday also would eliminate a 2 percent fee the federal government currently charges states for collecting the revenue. The legislation would allow the federal government to keep its 50 percent share.

"Wyoming is fully capable of collecting its share of mineral revenues and shouldn't have to wait for the federal government to write us a check," Enzi stated in a release. "The money owed to the state is written into law and is not negotiable. It sets a dangerous precedent when Washington thinks it's OK to take state money instead of cutting its own spending. The government needs to uphold its end of the deal."

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