It’s become somewhat of a cliché at this point.
State lawmakers know that Wyoming faces budget shortfalls. They acknowledge that the state relies too heavily on a few industries to fuel government services. They admit that budget cuts alone can’t solve the problems. And they note that even if we attract new businesses to the state, we can’t benefit from additional revenue without a change in our existing structure.
And yet when it’s all said and done, another year passes and Wyoming still faces the same economic realities. We remained tied at the hip to the volatility of commodities markets. We continue to stare down the same structural issues. And nothing gets done.
Yet, there is an opportunity now to break this cycle and steer Wyoming toward a more sustainable future. Lawmakers are discussing several ways to raise more revenue, to decrease our reliance on the energy industry to pay for the basic services we all rely on and benefit from: schools, police and fire, parks and roads.
Among those proposals is a bill that would make give local governments more flexibility to ask citizens to approve tax measures. Another would enact a tax on large, out-of-state corporations that do business here. A third would tax energy generation.
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At the point, we’re not endorsing any of these proposals. They should be carefully analyzed and vetted this fall and winter ahead of the upcoming legislative budget session. What we are endorsing is merely that each one of these bills gets proper consideration, that lawmakers make a good-faith effort to address the revenue problem without relying on empty platitudes or falling back on what we consider to be foolish no-tax pledges made by some legislators to special interest groups. These pledges are a poor excuse for not addressing public funding challenges with balance and a clear eye, and voters should take note when a legislator abdicates their legislative responsibility to a special interest.
Our state faces serious issues when it comes to the revenue needed for public services. And pretending that some superficial cuts will suddenly leave us with a healthy educational system, with adequately supplied police and firefighters, with good roads and medical care for seniors and people with disabilities, is wishful thinking. It’s failing at a basic duty of an elected official, to consider all the options that are available.
And so our request is simple. Instead of blanket denial of all revenue measures, lawmakers should give them all fair consideration. Instead of worrying about anti-tax pledges, lawmakers should judge each proposal by its own merits. Instead of pretending that what worked in the past will always work, lawmakers should consider the present and the future.
There is still time to set Wyoming on a sustainable economic path. It will require courage and careful planning. It will require compromise and pragmatism. And most of all, it will require keeping an open mind.