Legislature passes conservative budget, large property tax reform package

On Friday evening we gaveled a close to the 67th Budget Session in the Wyoming Senate and House. It was a tumultuous budget year. Yet, despite political differences and policy disagreements, the Legislature passed a conservative, balanced budget that addresses our state's needs and invests in the future.

Those investments include funding for nursing homes, preschool for developmentally disabled children, and home services for senior centers. The budget supports mental health efforts and funds energy projects. Additionally, and importantly, the final budget restored more than $300 million for the construction of K-12 schools. All of this was achieved with a general fund budget that is $200 million lower than the budget proposed by the governor or introduced by the Joint Appropriations Committee. We are proud of the work that was accomplished and commend our fellow citizen legislators for a job well done.

Heading into the session, addressing runaway property taxes was our top priority. It remained so until the end. We are pleased to report that the Legislature passed the largest property tax reform package in the history of our state.

This package is made up of three pieces of legislation-Senate File 54, House Bill 45, and House Bill 4-which together provide a three-pronged approach to alleviate the increases residents have suffered over the past several years and provide protections against continued growth.

Senate File 54 provides a twenty-five percent exemption on the first two million dollars of the fair market value of a single-family residential structure for all Wyoming homeowners. At the same time, it offers a backfill to towns and counties to avoid cuts to critical services and programs and includes a two-year sunset clause to adjust for any unforeseen impacts. Another exemption bill, House Bill 3 provides a 50 percent exemption for those sixty-five years of age or older, who have paid residential property tax in Wyoming for twenty-five years or more on any residential property and that the property is the person's primary residence. Homeowners are eligible for one of these two exemptions.

House Bill 45 provides long-term protection, capping annual increases at four percent. This will prevent residents from getting slapped with massive, unforeseen tax hikes, which have become routine in many parts of the state and allow them to plan their finances from year to year. The percentage is a compromise between the House and Senate bills and was decided on after careful consultation with town and county representatives.

Finally, House Bill 4 provides additional access to existing relief funds for lower income residents. This bill adjusts the threshold to apply for local property tax relief-funds that have already been approved and budgeted by the Legislature-from 125 percent of the local gross median income to 165 percent. This will ensure retirees, lower-income earners, and other at-risk families are not taxed out of their homes.

These bills have been years in the making. The committee chairs and members that spent countless hours writing and rewriting legislation, consulting with stakeholders, and building consensus deserve full credit-as do all the members of both chambers who voted in support. These bills show what the Legislature can do when it works together to tackle a challenge, and they promise to help resolve the single biggest issue residents are grappling with.

As the presiding officers of the House and Senate, property tax reform has been our number one non-budgetary focus. This work required a balanced approach, ensuring Wyoming people received the relief they need and want without compromising the operations of towns, counties and schools. After all, property tax revenue supports crucial services such as the work of snowplow drivers, teachers and law enforcement.

These property tax reform bills will provide real, comprehensive relief that residents can take to the bank. And they are part of a budget that will set our state on a path of continued growth and practical investment for years to come. In fact, the final budget approved by the House and Senate, along with current statute, puts over $800 million into long-term savings over the next biennium, and prudently funds our schools, infrastructure, and life-saving programs.

We are proud of the work the Legislature accomplished this year, and we stand firmly behind it. It was not easy, but this body demonstrated that even when we don't see eye-to-eye, it can still do what's right for our state and the people who call it home. It has been the honor of a lifetime serving as the President of the Wyoming Senate and the Speaker of the Wyoming House of Representatives-and we thank you, the public, and each of our colleagues for the privilege and responsibility.

Albert Sommers is the Speaker of the House and has served In the Legislature since 2013. Ogden Driskill is the President of the Senate and has served in the Wyoming Legislature since 2011.

 

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