Taxation Representation: How far will Wyoming go when times are tough?

WYOMING – Even during the darkest economic times, Wyoming lawmakers—the majority of which are and have always been staunchly conservative—have resisted adding or raising taxes. A mostly covert cigarette or fuel tax here and there, maybe. But income tax? That’s a nope.

Until now?

With just days left before any additional new bills can be presented, House Minority Leader Cathy Connolly D-Albany just broached the subject. Again. She tried the same bill last session only to see it die in committee.

But with Wyoming feeling the pinch of nationwide coal scorn, depressed oil and natural gas prices, and anything and everything the state is normally paid handsomely for gigging out of the ground suddenly drying up…could this be the year?

Probably not.

But to do more than talk about it in Cheyenne coffee shops is a big step. House Bill 147, while having about as much chance as declaring the magpie as Wyoming’s new state bird, is a big deal. It will get noticed.

The bill proposes a 4% tax on personal income over $200,000. The high threshold would exempt the great majority of 99 percenters in the Equality State but practically everyone—if you believe the data—in Teton County would feel the burn.

The bill is co-sponsored again this time around by Minority Senate Leader Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Albany. Both legislators are well respected, longtime lawmakers—Connolly serving since 2009, Rothfuss since 2011.

Dead on arrival

A bill that would bump state sales and use tax from 4 percent to 5 percent was killed by the House before it ever reached committee. HB169 was shot down yesterday by a 12-48 vote. Local House Reps. Jim Roscoe-I, Andy Schwartz-D, and Michael Yin-D voted in the losing affirmative side.

A measure to raise the fuel tax from 24 cents a gallon to 27 cents also failed introduction in the House on a deadlocked 30-30 vote. Again, Reps. Roscoe, Schwartz, and Yin backed that bill, HB63 in a losing effort.

Showing promise

Taxing nicotine appears far more palatable to lawmakers. HB73 would include e-cigarettes and vaping devices among already taxed nicotine products like conventional cigarettes, cigars, and snuff. The tax on these products would be raised and better licensing of vendors would be mandated.

That bill, sponsored by the Joint Revenue Interim Committee, moved on Monday by a 44-15 vote in the House.

Taxing the sun also seems to be something the majority of legislators are willing to discuss. House Bill 179 would add solar-generated electricity to the list of taxable electricity production which already includes wind power. That bill moved on in the House of Representatives yesterday on a 50-10 vote.

A statewide lodging tax is on a fast track through the House in this 65th Legislative Session. The only tax proposal to receive the support of Governor Mark Gordon flew through the Appropriations committee 6-1 and on Monday passed the House 45-14. It is scheduled for first reading in the House Thursday morning.

The proposed legislation would impose a 5% lodging tax statewide—2% of which would be distributed to each county according to the proportion of the tax it collected. It would still allow counties to establish their own lodging tax rate but that would be capped at 2%. Currently, each county can tax beds as high as 4%. Teton County currently operates with a 2% lodging tax.

The remaining 3% of the 5% lodging tax collected by the state would be distributed as follows: 80% of the average annual revenue collected during the preceding five years would be deposited each year in the proposed Wyoming Tourism Account.

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