Help Promote the 2014 FCDP Convention!

The Fremont County Democratic Party Convention is just around the corner! Join us on Saturday, March 15 at 10 AM at the Lander Library. We’ll be electing delegates to the Wyoming Democratic Party state convention and debating and adopting a county platform.

Wyoming Democratic Party Chair, Pete Gosar will be the keynote speaker. We’ll also hear from Representative Patrick Goggles and U.S. Senate candidate, Charlie Hardy.

Help promote the FCDP Convention. Download the FCDP Convention Flyer!

convention flyer

Index Minimum Wage to Depression Era?

Recently Fremont County Democratic Party Chair, Bruce Palmer, had an op-ed in the Lander Journal and the Riverton Ranger promoting a “Workers Agenda”– minimum wage increase; wage increases for our public employees and educators; expansion of Medicaid for working poor and repeal of the vacation theft act. Read the op-ed here.

The op-ed prompted this letter to the editor from a Lander doctor (click on the image to make it larger). In the alternative universe that is known as Republicanism a good economy in Wyoming means putting money in the bank, not investing in people and a minimum wage well below poverty level. Democrats believe people are our best investment!

Really? Index the minimum wage to 1938?

Really? Index the minimum wage to 1938?

A Wyoming Worker’s Legislative Agenda

This op-ed piece written by Bruce Palmer, FCDP Chair, appeared in the February 11 Riverton Ranger as a letter to the editor and in the Lander Journal on February 12.

A Wyoming Worker’s Legislative Agenda

This week the Wyoming Legislature convenes for a 20-day budget session to hammer out the budget for the next two years. Fortunately, the state is in a strong financial position with solid revenues and billions in the bank.

Sadly, though, while our Republican dominated legislature is stuffing money in the bank they are ignoring investment in our most valuable asset—our working people. Every employee should be appropriately compensated and moving forward financially. They should be valued and treated fairly. The Wyoming legislature through word and deed is drastically missing the mark in this area. This state would be best served if our leaders abandoned their ALEC-fueled zealotry and adopted the following worker’s agenda.

First, give our state employees and educators the raise they deserve. After four years without a raise our state employees have seen their buying power go down as the cost of living has gone up and their retirement contribution increases. Governor Mead in his budget proposal recommends a 2.5% increase for two years. This does not make up for the four years without a pay increase, but is better than the bank more/invest less two percent recommendation coming from the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee.

Our educators face a similar challenge.  Wyoming schools have been without an External Cost Adjustment (ECA) since 2008. The lack of an ECA, a “cost of living” increase for school districts, leaves districts with a cumulative 14% increase in expenses without a corresponding increase in revenue. The squeeze applied by the Legislature means that local school boards are left to decide between buying books and retaining their best staff.

The state has billions in the bank. Why are we nickel and dimeing our state employees?

Second, raise the state’s minimum wage. At $5.15 an hour Wyoming’s minimum wage is the lowest in the nation, and it is worse for tipped positions, where the minimum is $2.13 an hour. Fortunately, most minimum wage workers in Wyoming are making the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, but even this is significantly less that they should be making. The minimum wage of $1.60 an hour in 1968 would be worth $10.56 in today’s dollars meaning today’s minimum wage earner has lost more than 30% in buying power. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2016 would directly impact 33,000 of Wyoming’s workers, nearly 13% of the workers in the state.

Third, take advantage of the optional Medicaid expansion to cover 17,600 Wyomingites, nearly 90% of whom are stuck in low wage jobs with no benefits. There is no reason not to accept the expansion. The Federal government will pay 100% of the cost the first few years scaling back to 90% in 2020. This expansion actually saves the state 47.4 million dollars!

Governor Matt Mead says he can’t support expansion because he hasn’t liked the health exchange rollout. This is irrelevant. Medicaid is a well-established program that has been helping people gain health security for decades. Senator Eli Bebout says we can’t trust the Feds. Perhaps. But we count on the Feds for 41% of the state budget and Senator Bebout’s oil and gas business relies on Federal oil and gas leases. Republican arguments against Medicaid expansion are lame at best and they offer no alternative solution. Expanding Medicaid shows compassion and commonsense.

Finally, repeal Enrolled Act 37, the Vacation Theft Act that became law on July 1 2013. Nearly every Republican voted to pass this bill changing the definition of compensation in the state of Wyoming to no longer include earned, accrued vacation. Not a single Democrat voted for this bill because we believe that workers earn their vacation and if they leave a job the vacation accrued should be paid out to the employee. The Wyoming Supreme Court believed that too, until Wyoming Republicans changed the rules, further eroding workers rights.

Republicans are good at putting money in the bank, but are just plain wrong on the issues that effect Wyoming working people. Democrats believe in fiscal responsibility and we believe that investments in people pay off in both the public and the private sector. Providing a living wage and sensible benefits, fairly administered lead to high output. If you are looking for “Return on Investment”, people are your best bet.

Riverton Ranger article: County Dems to push for expanded Medicaid

County Dems to push for expanded Medicaid

Feb 4, 2014 – By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Fremont County Democrats are fighting for working families!

Fremont County Democrats are fighting for working families!

Fremont County Democrats say they are hoping to help working-class people get health insurance by pushing for the Wyoming Legislature to expand Medicaid. At a Jan. 19 meeting, the county party passed a resolution supporting the expansion.

The federal Affordable Car Act allows states to offer the federal health insurance program to people with higher incomes than were eligible before, and the federal government will pick up most of the added cost.

“We’re encouraging what we think is a compassionate solution and what we think is a common sense solution and that is saving the state of Wyoming a significant amount of dollars,” said FCD chairman Bruce Palmer.

About 17,000 Wyoming adults are ineligible for either Medicaid or subsidized health insurance through the new federal exchange created by the ACA, according to a Jan. 6 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The Wyoming Legislature in 2013 vote against accepting federal dollars to extend Medicaid coverage to those people.

Democrats are conservative with their expectations.

“We’re trying to push as best we can, recognizing it’s definitely a Republican-dominated legislature here,” Palmer said. “I think just keeping this issue in front of people, talking with our legislators about it (are ways FCD can support it).”

In Wyoming, adults without children are cannot receive medicaid benefits and cannot get subsidized insurance if their incomes are below the poverty level. Adults with children who make more than 56 percent of the poverty level are ineligible for Medicaid, but if they earn less than 100 percent of the poverty level they also cannot receive subsidized health insurance.

The Medicaid expansion set out in ACA would cover those people.

“Those who will be included in Medicaid expansion are working class folks, generally working minimum-wage jobs without benefits,” Palmer said.

FCD members spoke with lawmakers at the Legislature’s Joint Labor and Health committee meeting in Lander in November and demonstrated outside. The local party also is coordinating with Fremont County’s lone Democratic legislator, Rep. Patrick Goggles, of Ethete, to push the issue, Palmer said.

Federal guarantee

Under the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. government would pay all of the cost of the expansion for a few years, then amount would decrease to 90 percent. Republican arguments that the state cannot count on the federal government to make good on that promise are not convincing to the FCD chairman.

Wyoming counts on federal dollars for highways, schools, mineral severance taxes and the Abandoned Mine Lands program, already, Palmer said.

“I see us fighting to keep those dollars, and I think we should, but to say some dollars are worth fighting for and other dollars we’ll just turn up our nose to is just ridiculous,” he said.

The Legislature’s Labor and Health committee on Jan. 10 approved advancing two bills expanding Medicaid to a lesser degree than Democrats are calling for. One, called “Medicaid Fit,” would offer more limited benefits, and the other, referred to as the “Arkansas model,” would take the federal Medicaid funding and use it to buy private health insurance.

Both would save the state less money and offer worse benefits than expanding “traditional Medicaid,” Palmer said.

Vacation, wages

FCD supports two other measures Palmer says are aimed at helping working people.

The first would repeal a law the Legislature passed in 2012. The act allows employers to take away employees’ accrued vacation time when they retire, resign or are fired if the employee and employer have a written agreement.

“People work their job, earn their vacation and to have that taken away seems unfair,” Palmer said.

Before the new law passed, the state Attorney General’s office held workers were entitled to be paid for accrued time-off when they left their jobs.

The other would raise the state’s minimum wage to $9 from the current level of $5.15. Many Wyoming businesses must follow the federal minimum wage of $7.25 because they are engaged in interstate commerce.

“It’s a growing concern because it just hasn’t kept pace with inflation, Palmer said. “A minimum wage earner has less buying power than they did 10 years ago, 20 years ago.”