In 2017, the Wyoming Legislature didn’t implement a corporate or personal income tax, nor did it raise the state sales or property tax to be in line with national averages or close the state’s budget deficit. Lawmakers also did not lay the groundwork necessary for a move away from heavy reliance on the mineral industry.
Instead, legislators contented themselves with nibbling around the edges of Wyoming’s revenue question, moving forward on a few small so-called sin tax increases while deferring decisions on larger tax questions until the new year.
The state remains dependent on energy companies for roughly 70 percent of public revenue and still has some of the lowest tax rates for individuals and non-extractive industry companies in the country.
Lawmakers largely punted the issue of plunging revenue due to the energy bust when they met last winter, promising to examine taxation over the summer and fall ahead of the budget session this February.
CHEYENNE – Monday was a bad day overall for new taxes in Wyoming, as lawmakers killed several bills and punted others to January.
And examine they did. The Joint Interim Revenue Committee looked at a host of tax proposals over several meetings, though they did not consider any bills that would dramatically remake the tax system in Wyoming. Committee members also ended up postponing a vote on the most significant changes that they did consider — namely raising the sales tax and possibly the property tax as well — until later in January.
The committee was tasked with generating three revenue plans, one that would raise $100 million, another that would raise $200 million and a third that would raise $300 million. Committee co-chair Rep. Mike Madden, R-Buffalo, has said that those were guidelines but that the final product might be a single plan somewhere between $100 million and $300 million or simply a few recommended bills that would each raise a set amount of money.
Lawmakers are considering increasing Wyoming’s reliance on property taxes until the energy industry recovers. A bill considered by the Interim…
Lawmakers were originally supposed to vote on all the tax bills at their December committee meeting but decided to hold-off on deciding whether to sponsor the sales and property tax measures until the final numbers on education funding are released in late January.
But they still killed a few bills at the December meeting — including one that would have allowed local governments to independently pass taxes more easily — and passed two, one to raise the cigarette tax by $1 per pack and a second to raise the sales tax on alcohol by a few percentage points.
Those bills will now be considered by the full Legislature.
But there’s evidence to suggest that the Legislature will be reluctant to pass even the measures that the revenue committee sponsors.
Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, said at a September committee meeting that taxes were unlikely to pass his chamber.
New so-called “vice taxes” on cigarettes and alcohol have been one of the few popular taxes among Wyomingites. A poll last year found that 81 …
“You’ve seen what happens to taxes when they hit the Senate,” Kinskey said. “They hit a buzzsaw of opposition — I’m proud of being part of that buzzsaw.”
Additionally, revised revenue estimates released in October projected that the deficit for the upcoming two-year budget cycle are about $200 million less than previously predicted. A further update to those numbers in January may trim the budget gap even more.
That relatively good economic news has also dampened enthusiasm among some lawmakers who had previously agreed that the state might be forced to raise taxes.
“Whatever appetite that was out there — if any — is somewhat diminished,” Gov. Matt Mead said in early December.
Even the so-called “tourism tax” is now in jeopardy. Introduced in September with the backing of the state’s travel industry, the proposal would levy a 1 percent fee on goods and services purchased by out-of-state visitors in order to fund Wyoming tourism promotion efforts.
CHEYENNE — What was initially billed as a “tourism tax” morphed into a leisure and hospitality tax at the Joint Interim Revenue Committee meet…
Despite being a staunch opponent of most taxation, Senate President Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, initially said he was open to the idea. But as details of the legislation have come out it became apparent that the measure would charge the tourism tax on most lodging and hospitality services, including bars and restaurants frequented by Wyoming residents, and it has since lost significant momentum.
In an interview earlier this month Bebout was circumspect about the prospect of new revenue streams, acknowledging that the state couldn’t entirely cut its way out of the roughly $700 million budget shortfall over the next two years — the numbers vary depending how it’s calculated — but saying he remained opposed to raising taxes.
“Let the process work,” he said.
It’s a familiar refrain: Hunker down. Weather the storm. Ask God for one more boom.