The Wyoming State Capitol is seen on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, in downtown Cheyenne. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – Members of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Revenue Interim Committee rejected a bill to raise the state’s property tax during their meeting Monday in Cheyenne.

The bill would have raised the tax rate on real and personal property from 9.5% to 11.5%, a jump that calculates to a roughly 20% increase in taxable property. Under the bill, minerals and industrial property would have been excluded from the increase.

In what would have been its final year of implementation in 2024, the tax increase would have brought an extra $122 million to the state’s coffers. Some on the committee viewed the increase as essential to helping the state deal with its budget issues in the coming years.

“Right now, it says we’re going to be a half a billion dollars in debt per biennium here in a few years, and that’s the best-case scenario,” Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, said.

Zwonitzer, who co-chairs the committee, noted property tax has historically gone toward education funding, making the increase a way to partially address the roughly $250 million shortfall projected for the K-12 education fund.

“It’s really only a small step we can take to try to get a solution to the problem,” Zwonitzer said. “A couple of small steps now – and I know this looks huge, but this is a small step in the picture we’re facing – are at least warranted for approval of the committee bill moving forward.”

Yet ultimately, legislators refused to move the bill. Rep. Tim Hallinan, R-Gillette, referred to the Legislature’s plan to move $257 million into the state’s rainy-day account as reason to vote against the increase.

“I think that it is premature to be raising taxes when we have $257 million that is being put into the (Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account) for 2019-20, so for that reason, I’m against this bill,” Hallinan said.

Speaking during public comment, Wyoming resident Bob Wharff said the bill could place an unfair burden on people with low income.

“When we fought for independence, it was over a lot less taxes,” Wharff said. “I am very appreciative of the state and the things that I have, but I just don’t see the need to keep giving more and more money to the government.”

Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, who voted for the bill, said South Dakota’s property tax rates are substantially higher than those in Wyoming.

“South Dakota’s economy seems to be a lot like Wyoming’s, except without the minerals, and they have a tax structure that seems to be working,” said Case, who co-chairs the committee. “What are we gonna do for a tax structure that works when we don’t have minerals anymore?”

Monday’s vote marked the second time in recent months that the Joint Revenue Interim Committee considered a way to boost the state’s revenue streams through taxation. In September, the committee advanced a bill introducing a corporate income tax on businesses with more than 100 shareholders.

Tom Coulter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at tcoulter@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @tomcoulter_.

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