Here are some editorials from newspapers around the state:
From the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, March 31
New approach needed to Wyoming’s age-old problem
Frankly, we’re tired of writing the same words over and over again. And you’re probably just as tired of reading them. Some longtime Wyoming legislators surely are.
But until something is done about it, we feel compelled to state the problem yet again: Wyoming’s tax structure needs to change if we’re ever going to end our dependence on the boom-and-bust fortunes of the minerals industry.
Everyone knows it. Many have been waiting for years, if not generations, for something to be done about it. The difference now is most of the state’s elected leaders are acknowledging it. Some are even offering possible solutions.
But the key problem remains: The majority are afraid of trying to clear that first hurdle. While some decent ideas were offered by the Legislature’s Joint Revenue Interim Committee headed into the recent general session, ultimately none were approved.
Yet as we enter another interim period between sessions, the Revenue Committee’s agenda is filled with reviewing the proposals that failed and searching for new ones. And given the Legislature’s abysmal track record, no one should be surprised to hear House Revenue Committee Chairman Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, say committee members are reluctant to offer new ideas.
In a recent interview with WyoFile.com, Mr. Zwonitzer also expressed frustration with Gov. Mark Gordon for calling out lawmakers for their lack of progress on tax reform, yet failing to publicly support any of the tax proposals during the session.
Maybe a better way to get out of the starting block cleanly is to step back and have a deeper, more philosophical conversation. After all, does anyone really know what measuring stick lawmakers use to decide whether a tax reform bill deserves their support (other than “How many potential voters will be upset with me if this passes?” and “How can I get people who aren’t Wyoming residents to pay for this?”)?
Before any more time and oxygen are wasted debating the pros and cons of specific proposals, we think some time should be spent developing a set of “Wyoming tax principles.” This process should include legislative leaders from both parties, Gov. Gordon and key stakeholders. The group can’t become too large or unwieldy, but it needs to include at least one senior citizen on a fixed income, the owner of a longtime Wyoming business, a lifelong Wyoming resident and a millennial who wants to stay in the state.
Once this process begins, it can’t end until some fundamental questions are answered, including:
n How much of a tax burden should Wyoming residents shoulder, and in exchange for what level of services? And what’s the best way to spread that burden so it doesn’t unfairly impact any one sector of our society?
n Are there some taxes that should apply only to out-of-state residents? (For example, if the lodging tax is increased, should Wyoming residents be exempted from paying it?)
n How much should older residents be expected to pay? Should there be exemptions for those 65 and older, and, if so, which taxes should they apply to?
n At what rate should Wyoming businesses be taxed versus those from out of state? And how do you define a “Wyoming business?” Is it one created here (such as Taco John’s), or one that has employed a certain number of people within the state’s borders for a certain amount of time?
n Which businesses and industries should get a tax break, and for how long? The state has handed them out for years, but they seem to be offered without a lot of thought about consistency and fairness.
n Is it time to apply the state’s 4 percent sales tax to all services in the state, or should some still be exempt? If so, why?
Once these principles are established, state leaders must share them with all Wyoming residents. That way, everyone can tell where legislators are coming from when they offer tax reform proposals.
While we’re in the mode of thinking differently, how about considering some truly radical tax proposals in the coming interim period? One we’d love to see implemented is special tax discounts or exemptions for residents who are registered to vote, and larger discounts if you can prove you voted in the last four elections. After all, those who engage in the political process deserve to benefit more than those who sit idly by and complain, don’t they?
Of course, all of this is easier said than done. Consensus on such issues is almost certainly impossible. But since previous attempts to solve this problem have proven unsuccessful, what’s the harm in trying a new approach?
You never know. It may finally be the thing that gets us over that first, seemingly insurmountable hurdle. And then we could all move from talking (and writing and reading) about tax reform ad nauseum to discussing the best ways to use the more stable revenue flowing in.