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In Wyoming, we are blessed to have critical services like public safety, roads and education largely funded by the state’s vast natural resources. In large part thanks to the mineral industry, as well as agriculture and tourism, Wyoming has for generations sustained its economic engine, providing an attractive lifestyle with more expendable individual income and choices, aligning with our independent values and appreciation of limited government interference.  

Opinion

In fact, this allows the average Wyoming citizen to have one of the lowest tax burdens in the nation. According to the Wyoming Economic Analysis Division, an average family of three, with an income of $65,000 and a home valued at $270,000, contributes $3,770 in state taxes through sales, excise and property taxes while receiving nearly $28,280 in critical state services through county, city, special districts, K-12 education and state services. And yes, while Wyoming individuals and businesses, including mineral companies, do bear the burden in sending $6.4 billion to the federal government in taxes, $7 billion is returned to the state through payments for services such as payroll, matching highway dollars and support of parks and federal lands.     

This tax structure has served the average individual in Wyoming well, but it all comes at a risk. We know from experience that relying heavily on revenue from price-dependent commodities is volatile and uncertain. However, the discussion of balancing or diversifying our tax structure becomes a broken record when elected officials exercise the foresight of saving just enough until the cyclical nature of prices bounce back. For decades, Wyoming has had the ability to survive in times when the market is down by utilizing our savings, otherwise known as “rainy day funds,” until revenues are back in the black.  

When the 66th Legislature convenes for the 2022 Budget Session they will be faced with the constitutional requirements of adopting a balanced budget for the 2023 – 2024 biennium. Along with the regular budget business, the governor and Legislature will also continue to oversee the significant influx of federal funding. The state is set to receive $1 billion in flexible funds from the American Rescue Plan Act that will be appropriated as directed from the Legislature and governor. This is just part of the $8-billion package the state has received in total from the ARPA and CARES Act federal funding. 

Make no mistake, these funds are not created through economic activity. Not only will they not bounce back after they are gone like oil prices, they will likely pass a burden on to future generations. This makes it even more important to invest in immediate crisis-related needs and be thoughtful with the remainder to ensure benefits are long-term not short-sighted. We cannot view these funds as yet another up-cycle in our traditional commodities. Not only must the Legislature use the same conservative saving approach as their predecessors, but they must do so all the more. Federal funds are not the answer to balancing our tax structure. 

We encourage our policy makers to invest these funds in such a way that does not obligate future citizens or legislatures with the burden of paying for future ongoing costs. Wyoming should treat federal stimulus dollars more carefully than it treats its own budget. Wyoming does not act like the federal government and nor should it.  Wyoming has always paid our bills and does not rack up an endless debt for our grandchildren and generations to come.

Ashley Harpstreith

Ashley Harpstreith is the executive director for Wyoming Taxpayers Association. Prior to joining WTA, Ashley worked for 10+ years in business and workforce development including as CEO of Goshen County...

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  1. Federal funding is not the answer, but neither is adding more taxes to the working class citizen. This QE economic policy, or distributing more printed money, has only devalued the currency, driven inflation, and added to the debt burden of future generations. Wyoming is just like the Federal government in that it has a spending problem. The elephant in the room is the exorbitant expenditures and budgets for the education system. It’s obvious that much of the federal money and state budget goes to a bloated education system that still operates in the red, and refuses cut spending (unlike most other departments in the state that did). Wyoming has the 3rd highest per pupil expenditures in the country at $25k (p 61). Sadly, unless Wyoming elects representation that will take on the powerful education unions and lobbyists nothing will likely change.

    http://wyotax.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/WTA-How-Wyoming-Compares-2021.pdf

    As for all the complaints and attempts to derail the minerals industry, it will continue to be a big part of Wyoming’s lifeblood for the foreseeable future. The reality is that worldwide demand for oil, natural gas, and coal is at record levels. Hydrocarbons still supply approximately 84% of the world’s energy, and demand has risen 50% in the last 20 years. Windmills and solar, despite over 30 years of subsidies still do not have the ability to meet demand, efficiently store energy, and have proven unstable during high demand, emergencies, and storms (CA, TX). Wyoming needs to be practical about the budget and realistic about the future.

  2. Blessed to have benefits from natural resource extraction!
    I consider it a curse. It puts Wyoming in the position of retaining its status as a resource colony.
    Innovation is the future. Education and infrastructure development through wise investment in a diversified economy is an opportunity these funds can provide.

  3. Excellent editorial Ashley. I fear your words will fall on deaf ears as we continue down the road to financial ruin in Wyoming. With a spoiled population that doesn’t want to pay for the services they consume and a legislature that buries it’s head in the sand we my soon look like Mississippi with bad winters. Not a very enticing prospect for those attempting to diversify the State economy.

  4. It would be wise to use these federal funds on long term infrastructure rather than shoring up our rainy day funds. Too much money sitting anywhere is vulnerable, as proven by the scheme to drain those funds to purchase land to bale out oil/gas company.

  5. Ashley: Great comments and extremely well written. We export much of our taxes to consuming states as a method of requiring them to pay their fair share of the infra-structure costs needed to produce about 17% of the nations total energy needs – in other words – we get the impact.