Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, held a town hall meeting last week to discuss the outcomes of this year’s legislative session. Taxes and revenue topped the list of concerns of the three locals who showed up to discuss state policy with the lawmaker.
Laursen discussed a failed bill that would have instituted a corporate tax for all companies with over 100 shareholders. It would have been the first corporate tax in the state’s history. While it coasted through the House, it met heavy opposition from anti-tax activists and lobbyists after it went to the Senate. Laursen opposed it.
“It died, luckily,” he told his constituents at the town hall meeting.
Laursen said it was mainly aimed at Walmart, with the hope of capturing tax dollars that were flowing out of state to the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas.
He questioned the accuracy of the $45 million the Corporations Committee estimated the tax would have generated. Laursen said it probably would have been more in the $30 million range, and the software needed to collect the tax would have cost half that much.
He was also concerned about the precedent it would set for the state’s tax climate, opening the door for more taxes.
“It was the camel’s nose under the tent,” the lawmaker said.
Besides the informal discussion on taxes, Laursen went through a Powerpoint presentation, highlighting bills of interest that were considered in the past session.
There were 503 total bills presented to the Legislature this session, and 42.5 percent of them passed into law. Of those, 127 were House bills and the other 87 were Senate bills.
Education and health care
One approved bill allows the fine for passing a stopped school bus to be charged to the vehicle owner when the driver can’t be identified. When school bus cameras photograph passing vehicles, the photos don’t always show the driver clearly.
Laursen opposed the bill, as he was uncomfortable with fining vehicle owners who may not have actually broken the law.
The Legislature also passed a bill that will spur $300 million for University of Wyoming student housing through various financial mechanisms. Laursen said there was a lot of debate over the measure, and he voted against it.
“That was a big battle,” he said.
The bill contained some appropriations that may have to come out of the “Rainy Day” fund, and overall, Laursen said he didn’t see the housing projects as a good use of state money.
“I just think private funds ought to do it,” he said after the town hall meeting.
Some health care bills also passed, including a couple aimed at helping control abuse of opioid-based prescription drugs.
Another bill provided coverage for air ambulance through Medicaid. The bill was signed by Gov. Mark Gordon Friday. Laursen said he opposed it because there were affordable air ambulance plans, and he didn’t think it was necessary to fund a program through Medicaid.
“I don’t know why government has to get involved,” Laursen said.
Other highlights included a bill that settled the location of a planned veterans’ skilled nursing facility. Wyoming is the only state without such a facility for veterans, and locations were narrowed down to Sheridan, Casper or Buffalo. The bill that passed designated Buffalo as the future site of the facility.
“I think that’s a good deal,” Laursen said of the decision.
He also voted in favor of successful bills that will authorize the production of and provide funding for the testing of industrial hemp and another that, in theory at least, would permit hunting of grizzly bears.
With an eye toward next year’s budget session, Laursen expressed a commitment to not raising taxes until every option to reduce spending was exhausted. Even though the state’s budget is one of the smallest in years, Laursen said more trimming is possible.
“I still think we can tighten the belt a bit more,” he said.
Speaking after the meeting, Laursen said he felt overall the outcomes of this year’s session were good for his district. Laursen’s one complaint is he feels the House is a bit too quick to spend money, whereas the Senate exercises a better level of restraint on spending.
“I’m sure glad they’re there,” he said.