By David Martin

Wyoming politicians wants state to have its cake and eat it too


September 16, 2020

I’m a lifelong resident of Wyoming and the older I get; the more certain inconsistencies seem to become evident.

For example, local and state leaders often talk about the need to diversify the economy, but continue to double down on the minerals industry that has historically provided the state and many of its communities with what can only be described as giant piles of cash. It’s a state with leaders who often shun federal assistance, but is extremely dependent on federal spending. It’s a state that has invested heavily in education, especially through the Hathaway Scholarship program, yet loses many of the young people it educates to surrounding states because economic opportunities outside of the minerals industries are few and far between.

Such is the case for another philosophy we’re likely to hear a lot of from many incumbent and hopeful legislators in the coming months: we will have to tighten our belt until the economy improves. This is wrong for many different reasons, but mostly because the deficit the state faces is so deep that simply cutting back on spending won’t adequately address it. Yet, that’s the plan we’re likely going to hear come January when the legislature is in session.

Sure, when talking about a household budget, there are things that can get cut without impacting a family. A routine trip to the movie theater or a restaurant can get cut back without much hassle, but when the choices come to which bills can get skipped for a month or if the household can go without a utility – the only real option is to find new ways of earning money. In the state’s case, it can either find ways of generating revenue; likely through taxes, or start selling things.

Yet, there isn’t a lot of political will to increase taxes and continued cuts will only increase costs elsewhere. Cuts to senior centers and senior programs will only increase tax spending for assisted living and care facilities as more seniors will get sent to homes because many otherwise wouldn’t be able to live on their own without assistance programs. Cut early childhood education initiatives and problems that can be screened early on will crop up more severe and more costly to correct in later years.

Selling state property may sound appealing as a mean of generating revenue without taxation, but those funds are one-time only; they don’t represent a stream that legislators can continually count on for years. I also suspect the idea of state land being sold to raise funding is why a lot of wealthy conservatives continue to support no tax pledges and the like.

It’s time for the legislature to admit an inconvenient truth -- taxes have to be levied to pay for the services and departments residents rely on. Yes, I know nobody likes that T-word, but it’s the only solution that doesn’t involve people losing jobs and access to services. A great place to start would be industries that have benefited from tax breaks in the past, as well as the state’s wealthiest residents.


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