A state is only as strong as its communities, Gov. Matt Mead says.
During a recent interview with the Star-Tribune, the governor used this reasoning to explain why it would be a mistake for the state to stop funding counties, cities and towns.
“Local governments [would] get hurt, but it’s the state that ultimately gets hurt,” he remarked.
City and county government leaders have been worried that the money they receive from the Wyoming Legislature is in jeopardy, as the state is continuing to face low tax revenue due to the weak energy market.
Wyoming is one of the few states that do not allow cities or counties independent taxing authority, meaning a city like Casper can’t decide unilaterally to tax food or income.
That means towns are heavily reliant on appropriations from the Legislature to supplement the share of local sales and property taxes they receive.
The state currently gives local governments roughly $100 million annually.
The Legislature was initially reluctant to support new sources of revenue, but the Joint Revenue Committee created five proposals for new revenue bills at its meeting last month. All would raise existing taxes.
Rick Kaysen, the executive director for the Wyoming Association of Municipalities, said it’s essential for local governments to receive assistance from the state.
Kaysen said there’s a false perception that larger towns like Casper would be able to “weather the storm” if funding was eliminated, but the executive director said that’s not the case, and explained that communities of all sizes were affected by the recent bust.
The executive director added that municipalities appreciate the governor’s support.
“The governor’s been a strong proponent of local government,” said Kaysen. Mayor Kenyne Humphrey said she agreed with the governor’s view, but pointed out that even his support is no guarantee that funding won’t be slashed.
“I think its possible [that funding will be cut] and I think people should reach out to their legislators,” she said.
Without funding from the state, Humphrey said Casper would likely have to close some amenities, like swimming pools or museums.
“You cut back to the very basics,” she said.