ESPC Testimony to Revenue Committee

December 17, 2020

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I’m Chris Merrill, executive director of the Equality State Policy Center.

I’m here today not because my organization is convinced this proposed tax increase on wind energy is great policy. We’re not. And there are differing opinions within my coalition about the wisdom of this proposal, and at least one of our member groups opposes it.

I’m here because the Equality State Policy Center is deeply concerned about Wyoming’s current and projected budget crisis, and the dangers that these shortfalls pose for Wyoming’s economy and quality of life, and especially what they could mean for the future of education funding in this state.

Public schools—along with access to healthcare—are part of the essential foundation of any viable community in Wyoming.

And if this Legislature doesn’t start addressing our budget shortfalls with new sources of revenue, many of our local communities are going to be in big trouble, and very soon.

From my perspective, Mr. Chairman, it’s unfortunate that this type of tax on industry (like the ad valorem mill levy you’ll be considering later) might be the only politically feasible kinds of new taxes at the moment—given what appears to be an overwhelming sentiment in the Wyoming State Legislature against new sources of revenue.

I say this is unfortunate because if Wyoming is to remain economically viable, if we want to foster and maintain a high quality of life for Wyoming’s residents, and if we want to become a place where future generations will want to live—we’ll all have to pay a little more in taxes . . . we’ll all have to chip in our fair share . . . and we’ll have to work together to make that happen. The people of Wyoming will have to do this. Not the energy industry.

We’ll need to work together to pull ourselves out of this developing-nation-style resource trap we’re caught in—here we are, entering the third decade of the 21st Century, and we still count on the energy and mining industries to pay almost all the bills.

So, in this sense, this legislation before you is more of the same.

Governor Gordon is now proposing a budget with what he termed “devastating” cuts, that is roughly $1 billion smaller than the one the state passed just two years ago.

And even after all these painful cuts, the state is still facing severe budget shortfalls in the years to come—which, if left unaddressed, would inevitably require cuts to education and other institutions essential to our future.

Unless—that is—the State Legislature can summon the political will to finally modernize our tax structure and come up with new, diversified, and more reliable revenue streams.

So, after considering this proposed wind tax legislation before you, we ask that you please reconsider more meaningful revenue measures to address our projected budget shortfalls and help set the state on a course for a brighter future, these include:

1.   A modest and fair income tax—along the lines of what we see in Utah, Idaho, Nebraska, Montana, Colorado, etc. An income tax is the most basic way a state can ensure that everyone who has the means pitches in a little bit, according to their means. Wyoming can no longer afford to be—nor should it want to be—a no-fee tax shelter for the wealthiest people on planet earth. This committee has heard testimony from regular working Wyoming people that they’d be willing to pitch in and pay more taxes to help cover the costs of education and other essential services.

2.   Increasing property taxes.

3.   Implementing a modest real estate transfer tax.

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