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By Nick Reynolds
Casper Star-Tribune Via Wyoming News Exchange 

Revenue Committee looks at reviving some tax bills

CASPER — With limited options left on the table, the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee will be reviving a number of failed money-raising bills from the 2019 general session, including an ill-fated corporate income tax bill.

 

May 2, 2019



CASPER — With limited options left on the table, the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee will be reviving a number of failed money-raising bills from the 2019 general session, including an ill-fated corporate income tax bill.

At its meeting last week in Lander, the committee voted to continue work on bills to raise the state’s gas tax, enable additional local option taxes and continue discussions on the National Retail Fairness Act — a corporate income tax bill that was killed after immense pressure from industry lobbyists and the state Republican Party.

Several bills from the 2019 session did not make the cut for the committee’s consideration this interim, including a conceptual personal income tax, taxes on food and services and a bill to add additional tax mills to bolster funding for the state’s K-12 education system.

Among the most surprising bills to be voted down by the committee was a proposed statewide lodging tax. The bill died in the Senate despite broad support in the House and from the hospitality industry, which supported the bill as a means to remove the budget for the state Department of Tourism from the general fund.

Republican Sen. Cale Case — a hotelier in Lander who owned the facility where the meeting was held — recused himself from voting on whether to take up the bill. However, he did use his time at the microphone to tear into the Office of Tourism, saying he believed it “cooked” the numbers to exaggerate its economic impact and that he believed the state’s tourism sector would not be affected if the office disappeared, despite states like Colorado having seen direct and significant hits to its economy from cuts in tourism.

Thursday’s decisions came at the close of a lengthy and contentious debate over past efforts to raise revenue and diversify Wyoming’s tax base, which has long suffered and thrived based on the health of the extractive and mineral industries.

One by one, representatives for industry, Republican party officials and special interest groups approached the committee to speak out against any new taxes, emphasizing the state’s poor economic performance and high per-capita rates of government spending to argue, as many have argued over the years, that now is not the time to be talking about tax increases.

While many discussed taking on efforts to rein in state spending, Wyoming’s bread and butter — oil, gas and coal — is expected to offer diminishing returns for the state in the coming decade. If the state’s primary industries continue to slide, Case warned, any budget cuts that are made in the future will be decided under budgets that, without new and diverse revenue streams, will have diminished even further.

“We saw presidential candidates in the last two weeks advocate for the restriction of oil production on federal lands,” Case said. “I’m not editorializing — I’m saying we have to deal with this reality. Is it possible, in the next 10 years, half of the cars sold in America are electric? I’m asking if it’s possible. What will that do to the oil and gas industry?”

Those who spoke out against new taxes had numerous and varied reasons for their opposition. Those opposing the National Retail Fairness Act felt it picked winners and losers and had a discriminatory definition of what qualified as the out-of-state “big box stores” the bill was looking to target — one of the reasons cited by the board of the Wyoming Taxpayer’s Association, which opposes any taxes it doesn’t consider to be “broad-based.”

Few who commented, however, had specific answers on how to improve the state’s revenues without increasing taxes. Meanwhile, Case said that the government has run out of room to cut.

“We gave up on cutting the executive branch and the agencies.” Case said. “They’ve given up on across-the-board cuts and now have found themselves in a scenario where they have to eat into their reserves. “We can chase this all the way down — but is that really good for Wyoming?” he added. “Everyone has talked about our economy not doing well. But other states are doing well — and they tax some of the same things we do. So could we please have a realistic conversation about this issue?”

Karl Allred, the chairman of the Uinta County Republican Party, told committee members that the state’s conservatives would support no new taxes unless the government found a way to reduce spending first — a refrain echoed Thursday by Sven Larson, an economist at the Wyoming Liberty Group.

However, that might be easier said than done.

On Thursday morning in Cheyenne, the Government Efficiency Task Force met in Cheyenne to discuss numerous efficiency initiatives that, if approved, could potentially save the state more than $200 million over the next several years. Maximizing those savings, however, will require the state to spend a significant amount of money and accomplish those initiatives in a very short time frame.

Meanwhile, the state has bills to pay. But the coal that used to pay them can’t do it anymore.

“That money is gone,” Case said.

 
 

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