Wyoming lawmakers often tout the importance of small government. And Wyoming is known for being a conservative, “local is best” kind of state. And yet, too often when legislators have the opportunity to reduce local dependence on the state government, they vote against it.
A committee of lawmakers recently balked at a bill designed to give local communities the ability to vote on whether to raise local taxes. To be clear, the legislation wouldn’t have enacted new taxes. Rather, it would have allowed local leaders to place a tax bill on the ballot and give voters the opportunity to decide its fate.
Granting taxing authority to local governments isn’t a fix-all solution to the funding woes faced by many small towns throughout the state. But it is a start. However, lawmakers in Wyoming seem more inclined to adhere to no-tax pledges than even consider the value of the idea.
Passing a law that gives towns and municipalities the freedom to levy their own taxes to increase revenue is not in itself a tax. Residents in those towns get to vote on any additional taxes that local leaders may choose to explore. And keep in mind, these small towns live in a limbo every two years as they wait for direct distributions from the state. They never know how much they’re going to get, as the state has no set minimums for these distributions.
If small towns had the option, at the very least, to levy taxes to generate extra revenue, it could help free them from this uncertainty. For many small towns, even with additional local taxes, direct distributions from the state will always be essential to keeping the towns solvent and providing necessary services to citizens. But adding the opportunity to raise their own revenue could help to provide services residents have otherwise had to forgo.
Local governments deserve the right to explore additional sources of revenue. And residents deserve the right to consider these options on their ballots.
While state lawmakers grapple with the shrinking budget, it would seem like helping local governments reduce their dependency on state funding would be a win-win. But unfortunately, many of our legislators are beholden to no-tax pledges that apparently prohibit them from even allowing other political bodies to explore the possibilities of other taxes.
We’ve said it here before, and we’ll say it again. Not all taxes are created equal. And it’s insulting to voters for lawmakers to decide that they can’t be trusted to levy taxes on themselves. After all, it isn’t an income tax we’re talking about here. Tax measures like these often pay for community or basic services like recreational programs or infrastructure fixes. Voters should be allowed to decide whether or not they want to tax themselves for these things. And if lawmakers truly agreed with a local-first approach to government, they’d agree.
Our state lawmakers should remember the importance of local control that is so often touted. And when the general session begins next year, this measure should be considered.