Senator Mike Enzi (ME): I apologize for being a few minutes late. I've been presiding over the Senate. So far this year, I've presided over the Senate more times than any other United States Senator. It's a very educational opportunity for me. When we're having those quorum calls that you see where nothing seems to be happening, it's an opportunity for me to talk to the parliamentarian and the clerk and to ask questions about different procedures that I'll have to take part in. In fact today, I learned some things about reserving time for speeches that should be helpful in a crisis situation when we have important legislation later. Of course today is the day before taxes have to be filed, so you'll see a lot of emphasis back here right now on taxes. Of course I was in Wyoming last week and held a small business hearing on taxes and tax legislation and government regulation. It was an outstanding session. We're still working through the possibilities on the things we suggested that can come out of that. But today in particular, we're concentrating on taxes because taxes have been escalating in the United States. We're one of the most highly taxed countries in the world. We tax what moves, we tax what doesn't move. We tax it when you buy it, we tax it when you sell it. We tax you for living, now we even tax you for dying. The Republican theory is that people know best how to spend their own money. They know a lot better how to spend their money than the government knows how to spend it. So we're trying to reverse that trend of who gets to spend that money, and allow individuals to keep more of their money to do the kinds of things that they think are essential. We're looking at the tax code. We've done the hearings. We're looking at some tax simplification. I think one of the stunning comments that I got was from the President of the Society of CPAs for the State of Wyoming who said that accountants want simplification. Accountants almost have given up on simplification because every time that Congress looks at simplification, what they wind up doing is raising taxes. I want to take a look at simplification, I do not want to raise taxes. I want to reverse the trend that we've had in that, and I think it can be done. Over the weekend I spent some time at one of the universities here and got some books from their taxes courses that deal with simplification and that'll be a help in the effort that we're getting ready to do. So today we're going to be taking a lot of looks at what's happening in taxes. In fact at the moment, Senator Thomas is on the floor of the Senate speaking about taxes, and you'll see a number of the Republicans doing that today. I'm going to be over there a little bit before noon today and talk more about taxes. So with that little bit of concentration, I'll turn it over for questions.
Norma Williamson (NW): Senator Enzi, my question does not deal with taxes, but it does deal with a bill that Thomas has introduced to reauthorize the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, better known as ISTE. His bill would about double what Wyoming is getting in federal highway funds. Other states that actually contribute more to the funds are not going to be too happy about it. What do you think of the chances of this bill getting through, and how do you feel about it?
ME: Well, there will be a bill make it through that deals with surface transportation. We have to reauthorize it. Most of the states derive funds for their highway system from that, and we're talking about increasing the amount of highway monies from $20 billion to $27 billion. Everybody is interested in that. But there is a huge divergence between the states that contribute more in gas taxes than they receive, and those of us that receive more in gas taxes than are paid inside the state. What we have to do each and every year is set the stage for how we're going to make sure that Wyoming get's as much of the highway funding as we possibly can. Senator Thomas has dealt with this for a long time both on the House side, and now on the Senate side, and has the lead in this and has introduced a bill with our plan for the Surface Transportation Authorization and Regulation Streamlining which stands for STARS and I'm a co-sponsor on that bill. We're working very hard to point out to people that Wyoming is a bridge state. If we don't have good highways in Wyoming, then you can't get from Nebraska to Utah, and goods can't get from Montana to Colorado. A lot of the Western states, while we don't put in as much in gas taxes as we have to put into the roads, are providing transportation to get from one place to another and transportation to get to the national parks. We have some maps that demonstrate how much of Wyoming is federal land. A lot of that federal land does not generate gas tax for us. So we have to set that kind of a stage in order to be able to fight for Wyoming's share of the proceeds. That's what the STARS bill is, and yes, we know there will be something passed in highway transportation, and we want as much as possible of the STARS bill to be a part of that.
Sqi Taylor (ST): Senator Enzi, this is Sqi Taylor with KYOD Radio. I've got a question for you. I know you ran on a business platform, or at least helping get Wyoming business back on track. In our own local chamber, observations from the leaders there say that business is flat across Wyoming. I wonder how the legislation that Senator Thomas talked with us about a week ago, how involved you are in this recent legislation to get the government out of Wyoming, and out of the regulating of some of those businesses coming into Wyoming. Can you comment on that?
ME: Sure. It's one of my favorite topics. I'm on the small business committee, that's my number one committee to pick because I know that the expansion in business is actually happening in that small business segment. And we're trying to reduce regulation and encourage small businesses to happen. That's where most of the economic development in the state of Wyoming is happening. At the hearings that I held in Wyoming, we had Dave Reetz from Powell come in and talk about the economic development effort that Powell has going. I've got to tell you, they've got a very enthusiastic and successful program going there that's bringing in businesses that range in personnel from 1 to 25, and then grow after they get there. They even recognize that there is a point where their growth will result in that company moving on to bigger cities perhaps. But they're doing some great things with their economic development there. I was in Cheyenne for the LEADS dinner and that's there economic effort. I was just pleased with the new businesses brought in there. They brought in a software company. It took a total of 34 days, just 34 days to get that company to come into the state. They're already construction buildings for that company. Before the building is even completed, they've made two additions to the building because it's expanding so rapidly. I got to talk to the founder and president of that company who also had some tax suggestions for me, but he also was very enthusiastic. He is moving to Wyoming. He says the capability for doing software out of Wyoming is as great as any place in the entire world. It's a great project for balancing budgets worldwide, because you take a little CD-ROM disc, put it in an envelope, and mail it out, and the cost of the programs on that could easily be $100,000. So there's virtually no product expense, very little mailing expense and a lot a revenue that's derived. Of course there's a lot of ingenuity, technology, and wages that go into producing that product for the $100,000. But it was encouraging in both of those communities to see the things that were happening. These are the recent things that are happening. And while the economy has been pretty flat, part of it has been from a downturn in some businesses, while the economic development activities have started to take off. I think that Wyoming is being discovered and discovered in a way that we want it to happen, which is in a small businesses growth in clean industries. I think that'll be a great help to the state.
NW: Senator Enzi, and I know you're asked this everyday, but what do you think of our chances of getting a balanced budget this session. Is there any chance at all? And do you have some ideas on how that can be achieved?
ME: Yes, I think we can get to a balanced budget. Now you've got to realize that if I hadn't been the eternal optimist, I probably wouldn't have run for this office to begin with. But I am pleased particularly with the negotiations that began early last week between the Budget Committee and the President's staff and I've had a chance to check on those a couple of times and they seem to be progressing. Now, part of the difficultly is deciding what a balanced budget is. The President is interested in balancing the budget by the year 2002, and we Republicans are interested in balancing it right now if possible. If the economy is really good, and we're told that it is really good, and the numbers indicate that it's really good, this ought to be the time we balance it. Then, if possible stick a little bit of money away to take care of future problems that come up. Of course, another one of the difficulties in the negotiations is that we also want to have some tax cuts. We're willing to start with the tax cuts that will stimulate the economy so that it'll produce more tax revenue. We want more of the money returned to the people who pay it in there. To really get to future balanced budgets, what we've got to have, what I've talked about through the whole campaign and what I've talked about since I got here, is some strategic planning in government. We've got to have each and every agency and every subdivision of that agency down to its very smallest part. Its most remote part, doing a strategic plan. That's to say what they're trying to accomplish and how they're going to get there. Make them make goals and then make those goals measurable so we can tell how well they're doing at getting there. Now I thought we were going to have to put some kind of a mechanism in place when I got back here to force them to do that. But I found there has already been a law passed called the Government Performance and Results Act that requires that. So what I've been working on while I've been back here is trying to get some enforcement in place to make the agencies do that. That's really the only way we're going to get to it, because what that is really saying is that these are things that we should be doing and the reaction usually from the general public is that we didn't know that we were doing those things. So when you've got the public and the employees agreeing that some function shouldn't be done, those are easy cuts. Now they aren't necessarily big enough to take care of all of it, but it at least gives you a prioritized list, and there is a lot of agreement on what ought to be prioritized, and that way the agencies aren't allowed to cut the most visible thing they have, which creates a furor nation wide that causes us to reinstitute that. We have this rule of legislation that if it's worth reacting to, then it's worth overreacting to. To show that our hearts are in the right place, we put more back in then what we took out. That's what busts budgets. So the key to getting the budget balanced is to have good strategic planning through this Government Performance and Results Act, and we're really concentrating on getting them to conform with that. I think we'll see some progress with that.
NW: One of the other questions I had, and I haven't seen anything on it lately, is coming from an area where we're so dependent on our national forests and wilderness and other public lands. What's going to happen, do you think, in the budget's restructuring process, to say the Park Service and the Forest Service Budget? They've been cut pretty sharply the last few years.
ME: Actually they've done that kind of budgeting that I talked about where they cut something really visible and then they quietly get it reinstituted and get a little more money then they had before. So they haven't been cut as severely as what people think. In fact, they've actually had some increase in funds. Of course, with the Park Service, there's also been the institution of the pilot program for fees, and that was finally taken advantage of and so there should be some additional monies for Yellowstone Park for this next year. Now the Department of Interior has one of these, the beginnings of one of these strategic plans that I talked about . The Park Service does not have that. Yellowstone Park does not have that. But I have requested that from them, because I want to make sure that in their priorities, that they go along with what the people of Wyoming are talking about in the way of priorities, which is to have the park open for people and to have the park open for a fairly extensive part of the year. The first thing they always want to cut is the amount of time that it's open, and we put more concentration on wolves than people visiting. So the strategic planning I think would help to get those sort of things ironed out. Along with the National Park and Forest Service budgets, one of the things that we have to worry about and something that the counties are extremely concerned about is the Payment In Lieu of the Tax (PILT) money that they get from the federal government. Since so much of our land in Wyoming is federal land, the federal land makes a payment to them that they could have gotten had that been private land. It's an old traditional thing that counties have come to rely on over the years. That money is threatened a little bit this year, because there's now the new national park in Utah. There going to be asking for some money from that, and where they're talking about taking it from is from the PILT and that becomes a doubling up because not only does it give it to the park to fund it, but they also have to pay more now to Utah because there's this huge set aside of land that no longer produces tax results. That increases the PILT on that end too. We're talking about a reduction that will be divided amongst the rest of the nation in the amount of about $6 million dollars just for that one park in Utah. So those are all things that we have to be aware of here and be working on, and we do have this team of Representative Cubin, Senator Thomas and I that meet on a regular basis and at the end of the meeting, we bring in our fourth team member, who is Governor Geringer. We visit with him by conference call to see how we can coordinate our efforts and who takes the leads on the different things that come up, so that we have the most concentration we can possibly get with the least duplication. That seems to be working well.
ST: Senator Enzi, I don't know how familiar you are with this particular issue, but the increase in the amount of money for school districts across the state of Wyoming and also the way in which those funds are being dispersed, can you tell me how involved directly in that issue and how you're monitoring that particular issue?
ME: I'm not very involved in it. I'm monitoring it mostly by looking at the newspaper articles and Associated Press articles that come through from Wyoming and some of the contact that I have with members of the Legislature. I can tell that it's the highest priority that they have, and that they're very interested in it. What I'm trying to do from the national perspective is make sure that the control for schools, and the funding for schools, stays in the hands of the state and the local folks. I think that's where the decisions for it need to be done. There is some talk about federal funding. But every time they talk about federal funding, they talk about equalization among states. Wyoming is considered to be one of the rich states. So when they're talking about equalization, they're talking about figuring a way in which to get some of our education money from Wyoming and put it in the hands of the federal government to give out to those other poor states. I obviously have to oppose that, and I've always been a strong advocate anyway of local control, keeping it with the state, and more particularly with the local school districts.
NW: On the forest service end of it, I know when I first came to Dubois about seven years ago, the staff in the local district office was about twice of what it is now. And that's been where a lot of the cuts have been. I know there may be department inefficiencies, and probably is as there are, with large agencies, but I wondered... recreational use has increased heavily in all of the state on our national forest. Do you have any ideas about how we could better take care of the facilities and provide for the services that people seem to expect?
ME: Well of course one of the thing we do back here is keep an emphasis on keeping people in the field. Because one of the tendencies we see in Washington is for them to increase Washington staff where the people in Washington think everything happens and decrease the people out there in the field who are the ones really doing the work. So we want to reverse that trend and see if we can't get people out where the work is happening. In the line of the forests, of course, there are some interesting things that are happening out there. The reduction in the amount of timber sales that there are is one of them, and that has been one of the sources of revenue for the forest service. They are allowed to keep a portion of the money that's raised from timbering. But of course the amount of timbering continues to go down, for a variety of reasons. But that cuts into the amount of money that they have. The Shoshone National Forest is 2.5 million acres, but they only can use 3 percent of that acreage for suitable timber harvesting. One of the things that I've been taking a look at is at the cost accounting that they're using on how they allocate costs on the timber sales. The President said that we were losing a lot of money with the timber sales, but the forest service shows how there is some money that's derived from that. The main difference comes from the old overhead costs as they're allocated. If you attribute 100 percent of the costs of the forest to timber, and none to any of the other multiple uses that it's used for, then timber loses money. But if you do a more reasonable allocation of the costs, then you come up with the forest service figure that shows timbering makes a little bit of money for the nation. But those are all things we have to look at from a multiple use aspect
NW : Well, I had one final question. Do you think any action is going to be taken on the Medicare to restructure Medicare this session. Is that even going to come up or what's going to happen?
ME: Yes, Medicare will be restructured. If we don't get the restructuring done during this session of Congress, it will go broke. When I first started running for office, they mentioned that it was going to go broke in the year 2002. By the time the primary was over, they were talking about it being broke in 2001 and I wasn't sure I was going to get into office in time to even work on the problem. We do have some things were trying to get done. The main concentration we're trying to do there is come up with a bi-partisan solution to it. One of the problems that there's been in the past, and that there still is, is that Republicans suggest ideas, and Democrats suggest ideas, and then each of us beats up the other for their ideas. Instead of adopting the good things from what the Republicans suggest, and the good things from what the Democrats suggest, putting them into a bill and working the process forward. So one of the things that we've done, is suggest that the commissioner himself ought to give us some specific instruction and then I guess we'd beat up on the commissioner. (laughter) The other advantage of the presiding time I've had is that I've gotten to listen to a lot of the speeches. I'm also on the Aging Committee and the Aging Committee is charged with doing the hearings for Social Security, Medicare, and Federal Pensions. We'd been doing that. It's interesting that if in 1986 we would have increased the amount of tax, and I hate to even talk about increasing a tax, but just as an example of why decisions need to be made timely, if we would have increased it by less that two percent of the rate at that time, which would have been less than two cents added to the 1.45 cents that the system would have been solvent for the next 75 years. But we have used up all of the good years on that system, and we're now to the deficit years. So our choices are much more limited. It looks like some of the things that we need to do is to give people a greater choice in their plans, allowing even private choices. That can't be with Social Security and still preserve the viability of the system, but it can be done with Medicare and preserve the viability of the system and there's some people who have been using a private system until they're 65 and then been forced out of the system. That doesn't seem fair either. What we have right now is a current system of price fixing that's being done by the federal government, and price fixing has never worked, and it isn't working in this case. In fact, you could say that the United States owns the only HMO that's losing money. So we will come up with some solutions for it. It is complicated, and it will take a while. We need to be careful on it, so that it becomes a bi-partisan effort instead of the effort of a single party. Either parties single ideas are going to be doomed.
ST: I'd like to thank you this morning Senator Enzi for joining us.
ME: Thank you very much. I appreciate the time you take to get the questions ready and the opportunity to visit with you. We've found this to be a real good experience and a good way of communicating. Thanks for taking the time.
NW: Thank you.