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Wyomingites most concerned about cuts to K-12 funding, increases to personal taxes, new survey shows

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When it comes to solving Wyoming’s budget crisis, residents here are particularly concerned about cuts to K-12 education funding and increases in personal taxes, a new University of Wyoming survey found.

University of Wyoming economics professor Robert Godby and marketing professor Mark Peterson presented the survey results to the Legislature’s education committee on Friday.

Although Wyoming’s revenue outlook is measurably brighter than in spring of last year in the early days of the pandemic, the state still faces a multimillion dollar shortfall in public education funding. The governor has already implemented a series of significant budget cuts, but there remains a revenue gap. Add to that an unsustainable revenue model deeply dependent on energy, and Wyoming faces tough decisions ahead.

To balance the state’s budget, how much of Wyoming’s savings account, or rainy day fund, should be spent? Should property, income or sales taxes be increased to generate more revenue? Or should state agencies have leaner budgets? What about cities and towns?

These are just a sampling of the big questions the pair of researchers set out to answer. The survey results offer data on the Wyoming public’s concerns and preferences when it comes to solving this fiscal challenge.

“People are most worried about K-12 funding, but that is followed closely in their preference order by personal tax cuts,” Godby explained to the Star-Tribune. 

The survey results indicated relatively less concern for reducing state agency budgets or decreasing funding for cities and towns. Respondents were also not as worried about taking money from Wyoming’s savings account to weather the tough economic conditions, the survey showed.

“(The budget cuts) are going to affect everyone in the state,” Godby said. “What is the unique Wyoming solution to this? Because there is more than one way to skin a cat and more than one way to balance a budget.”

The survey used marketing and product development techniques to present a set of choices, or alternatives, for solving the budget crisis. Participants then had to weigh their preferred steps, but they couldn’t simply select everything.

The survey did not ask participants for a single concern, like typical surveys often do. Instead, the survey allowed participants to identify how important budget choices were relative to one another.

“To get something, you have to give up something,” Peterson said. “In that environment, you see more realistic answers.”

After they answered a series of questions, respondents’ preferences could be ascertained through statistical analysis.

The survey showed people cared about decreases in all of the five areas — cuts to K-12 funding, reductions in state and local funding, use of savings or increases in personal taxes.

But the relative importance of each category differed, Godby noted. "People are most concerned about K-12 funding decreases and tax increases, and much less worried about using savings."

About 480 people completed the survey from all of Wyoming’s counties. The sample group was relatively representative of Wyoming as a whole in terms of age, education and politics. SDR Consulting conducted the study, collecting answers from a pool of citizens across the state. Researchers conducted the survey in November and December.

On Friday, the researchers also offered lawmakers a tool to help them make decisions based on this data. The interactive tool allows users to hypothetically increase or decrease funding for various parts of the budget to see how it will affect public support.

The full survey results will be published this week.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include additional context on how researchers conducted the survey.

Follow the latest on Wyoming’s energy industry and the environment at @camillereports

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Energy and Natural Resources Reporter

Camille Erickson covers the state's energy industries. She received her master's degree at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Before moving to Casper in 2019, she reported on business and labor in Minneapolis, Chicago and Washington.

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