We here in Park County really don’t like taxes, and a proposal to eliminate voter input on the fifth cent of general sales tax is not going to be a popular one just about anywhere in the …
We here in Park County really don’t like taxes, and a proposal to eliminate voter input on the fifth cent of general sales tax is not going to be a popular one just about anywhere in the state.
The Wyoming Association of Municipalities and the Wyoming County Commissioners Association put forth a proposal to make the 1 percent general purpose tax permanent, and the Joint Revenue Committee voted to draft the bill for consideration in the next legislative session.
The state collects a 4-percent sales tax for all counties in Wyoming, of which 69 percent goes to the state and 31 percent goes to local governments. Local governments have the option to ask voters for 2 additional cents, which can be used to fund general county and municipal government operations (a 1 percent general purpose tax) and/or a list of specific local projects (a 1 percent specific purpose tax).
Park and Sublette counties are the only counties in Wyoming without the additional 1-cent general purpose tax. Voters in Park County shot down that extra tax in 2012, with 61 percent opposed, and surveys in 2016 showed little support for it; voters instead approved a specific purpose tax that year.
At a commission meeting earlier this month, Park County Commissioner Lloyd Thiel pointed to the county’s $2 million budget crunch and argued that, while the commissioners really don’t want to raise taxes, they need to be “realistic” if they are to maintain services people demand.
And therein lies the problem. Politicians with a sincere commitment to keeping taxes low, like we have here in Park County, often face fierce opposition when they try to cut services.
Last July, the commission voted to cut funding for recycling programs in the county. This was met by backlash from the public, and the commissioners were forced to reinstate the funding.
This is not to argue one way or another if the reinstated funding was a right. All the services the county provides have merits, especially where leaders are committed to minimizing government waste. But these services also all cost money.
Almost any county voter who would vote against the fifth cent could point to a cut he would make in county and municipal budgets. But could he find one that wouldn’t be a huge controversy? This is the no-win situation policymakers have to deal with.
None of this is to say the proposed bill to create a permanent general purpose tax should pass. Considering the political climate in the state with regard to taxes, it’s unlikely the bill, if it’s even introduced, would pass. But opposition to government taxation enjoys a far wider consensus than support for budget cuts. Until voters present equal support for the latter, their participation in the debate on government spending, especially during budget shortfalls, isn’t going to produce balanced solutions. Whether or not you support the proposed bill, it shouldn’t be entirely surprising some policymakers start talking about leaving voters out of the discussion.