A home for sale in Lander in 2020. (Katie Klingsporn/WyoFile)

A statewide ballot initiative would effectively halve rising property tax bills for certain residents but would slash education and local government funding. That’s according to a fiscal analysis prepared in October by the Secretary of State’s office and the Department of Revenue. 

The proposal, now being circulated for signatures, would exempt 50% of the assessed value for property used as a primary residence at least six months of the year. The property owner would also need to have been a state resident for at least one year to qualify for the exemption. 

Former Republican candidate for governor Brent Bien is leading the charge on the initiative, which is being proposed amid a notable rise in property taxes around the state. 

“We waited to see what the Legislature would do last session,” Bien told WyoFile. “Nothing happened there.”

Of more than a dozen bills aimed at providing residential property tax relief, lawmakers settled on three: one to expand an existing refund program for low- and middle-income homeowners and two to lay the groundwork for more ambitious future reform. That was insufficient, according to some voters, lawmakers and Bien. 

“We’re not in competition with the Legislature,” Bien said. “But we want to get these guys going. We want to kind of light a fire under ‘em.”

Bien’s effort aside, lawmakers are feeling the pressure to find a solution. The Joint Revenue Committee dedicated much of the off-season, known as the interim, to discussing and drafting several bills related to property taxes. Along the way, some lawmakers have argued that the right approach won’t burden local governments since those entities have limited ability to generate their own revenue. 

That would be a consequence of the initiative, which is estimated to result in a $132.4 million revenue loss in its first tax year alone if it’s successful. Larger fiscal hits are projected for tax years 2025 and 2026. 

Rep. Liz Storer (D-Jackson) said that would leave the state with two choices. 

“Are you going to cut services or are you going to make that [revenue loss] up somewhere else? It’s that simple,” Storer said. 

(Storer is president and CEO of the George B. Storer Foundation, a financial supporter of WyoFile.)

Initiative process

The ballot initiative process makes it possible for voters to change state statute without legislative action. 

To land on the 2024 ballot, the property tax initiative will need 29,730 signatures before lawmakers convene for the budget session in February. More specifically, 15% of voters from at least 16 counties will need to make up those signatures. 

In September, Secretary of State Chuck Gray conditionally certified and announced the initiative after it secured its first 100 signatures, which in turn required Gray’s office to produce a fiscal analysis. 

The report was prepared using residential property assessed values and property tax data for the 2023 tax year, along with the January 2023 report from the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group, which projects state government revenue. It also assumed that 71% of all residences would be owner occupied and that 83% of homeowners have resided in Wyoming for at least a year. 

If voters pass the initiative, it would, according to the report, exempt: 

  • $132.4 million in property taxes in 2024.
  • $137.1 million in 2025.
  • $141 million in 2026.

“People listen to that number and they’re like, ‘holy smokes, that’s a lot of money,’” Bien said before pointing to the state’s most recent supplemental budget, which socked away a record $1.4 billion into savings

“Bottom line is: We’ve got plenty of money in this state,” he said. 

Bien also questioned the need for residential property taxes to begin with “given how much revenue based on minerals — gas, oil, coal — that we actually get in the state.” 

State financial forecasters, however, consider those revenue streams to be volatile in the long term. They have proved to be in the past, resulting in periods of booms and busts.

Secretary of State Chuck Gray conditionally certifies a ballot initiative to create a homeowners’ exemption for residential property taxes on Aug. 30, 2023. A fiscal analysis prepared by his office estimates the initiative will create a $132.4 million revenue loss in its first tax year if successful. (Courtesy)

Local government funding 

“There’s a disconnect between where these funds go. They are not state funds,” said Jerimiah Rieman, executive director of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association. “They go to fund local services that are provided on the ground.”       

Meanwhile, local governments have little ability to generate their own revenues. Wyoming counties, in particular, have no independent taxing authority, while a general sales and use tax, or funding through a special district, must be approved by local voters. 

How much a local government relies on residential property taxes varies across the state as do municipal and county expenses. Generally speaking though, Rieman said, employee salary and benefits make up a significant portion of most budgets. 

The hospital was the largest expense in 2022 for five counties — Carbon, Converse, Laramie, Sheridan and Sweetwater — according to data from the Department of Audit. Roads and bridges were the most expensive services for Fremont, Johnson and Park counties while the sheriff’s department was the highest expense for Big Horn, Niobrara and Teton counties. In Natrona County, it was the airport. In Goshen County, it was the fire department.  

In the case of a revenue cut — such as with the property tax initiative — it’s easy to say the state could pull funds from savings or other revenue streams to backfill the loss, Rieman said, but that’s not how the state’s tax system works. 

“That just doesn’t happen,” he said. 

In the past, lawmakers have relied on the “rainy day,” or Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account, to fund education in the face of a deficit. But unlike education, the state isn’t constitutionally obligated to protect services provided by local governments. And funding for those services is already an issue, Rieman said. 

“I can’t sit here and say that county commissioners are saying that, ‘the roads are too smooth, that the ambulance gets there too quickly, that the fire truck is too close,’” Reiman said. “County commissioners are hearing from constituents that all of those need attention, and it is initiatives like this that are going to make it even harder to try and address those issues.”

Instead, Rieman’s organization supports targeted relief, such as the refund program. The Joint Revenue Committee voted in October to sponsor a bill expanding the program

The committee will hold its final meeting ahead of the session on Monday in Cheyenne. Two bills related to an acquisition value-based property tax system are on the agenda. 

Maggie Mullen reports on state government and politics. Before joining WyoFile in 2022, she spent five years at Wyoming Public Radio.

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  1. So, where is this petition in Natrona County that registered voters can sign? Can you sign online?

  2. Sounds kinda like what happened in California in the ‘70’s, it was the ballot measure called proposition 13. It limited assessed value increases, and all the government departments cried we can’t make it. But it passed, fortunately, and the state survived. Folks who don’t move do not have their property tax bill increase as fast as the property value. The only problem is `commercial property owned by large corporations that never move are paying much lower property taxes too, which some people think is not right. The idea in Wyoming to separate residential and commercial property would address that problem.

  3. But isn’t there a constitutional amendment referendum that would alter the tax assessment structure on the Nov. ballot?

  4. There a lot of good ideas and comments here. Hopefully someone will take note of them. I just want to add that Wyoming also needs to think about a different tax classification for short term rentals. AirBNB’s etc…. whether it’s the whole house, bunk house, or rooms, these residences, or portions there of, are; and should taxed as income producing property.
    And yes, county and local government need to reign in their spending….but that’s an argument for another time

  5. Reporter Maggie Mullen in “Property Tax Ballot Measure…” represents that the sheriff’s office is Teton County’s largest expense and provides a link (https://wyofile.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/2022-Cost-of-County-Government.pdf) to support that assertion. That link indeed shows Teton County sheriff’s office cost $8.8 million (Teton County’s largest expense) in fiscal 2022 out of a total county budget of $70.2 million. Interestingly, that particular budget report also seems to show Teton County’s total revenue at $140.7 million ($53.0 million from taxes and $87.7 million from other sources) leaving a $70.5 million surplus. If ALL Teton County tax income were cut in half (cut by $26.5 million), this budget report seems to suggest Teton County would still have a $44.0 million surplus. I realize most property tax goes to the state. Still, I find it puzzling that the referenced Teton County budget summary shows no line item for education nor any revenue or cost items for Teton County’s hospital and airport. Certainly, this particular budget summary is not truly “comprehensive”.

    Bottom line, after reviewing the indicated county budget summary, 1) I am surprised to find that indeed the sheriff’s office represents 12.5% of Teton County’s budget (seems like a lot), 2) given the reported $70.5 million Teton County budget surplus (and the roughly 100% increase in property taxes over the past 2-3 years), it is not at all clear to me the state and counties would be unable to handle a 50% cut in residential taxes, but, 3) most importantly, citizens have a burning need for a simple, comprehensive budget report, one page apiece, for the local town, the local county, and the state showing the total revenues and expenses including the dozen or two major sources of income and dozen or two major expense categories over the past 5 years. Only with simple, comprehensive town, county and state budget reports could citizens intelligently weigh in on the issues. Pointing your readers to those documents (if they exist) would be a real service.

  6. I was in the Legislature in 1987 when we addressed the property tax disparity across the state that was affecting school funding and the Supreme Court had mandated equality for school funding. At that time there was only one class of property for tax purposes. The issue was heavily debated and the House and Senate had different views on how it was to be addressed. Ultimately, a compromise was reached resulting in the three categories of property for tax purposes – minerals, industrial and all other properties, which meant commercial, ag and residential were to be assessed the same. The voters overwhelmingly approved the constitutional amendment in 1988. The times change and there is a need for a further amendment to the constitution that separates out residential property from the other that are lumped into the same class. The proposition that will be on the ballot in 2024 that will create a separate class for residential properties appears to be a needed and rational solution to the problem.

  7. Property values have skyrocketed over the last several years. Lots of retired people and remote workers relocating to Wyoming that pay premium prices, often above appraised value, with cash. Or build new, luxury properties. These sales, at inflated values and sales of high-end, new construction, dramatically impact the assessed value of nearby, existing properties. If you live in an older home, and have lived there for a number of years, and are not looking to sell, your property taxes still escalate, all based on recent, real estate transactions that you are not involved with. That is a crazy way to access property taxes. My home is over a hundred years old, my family has lived here since the 1950’s and we don’t plan on leaving. Why have my property taxes nearly doubled in the last 5 years? All based on some fool either paying way too much for an old house in my neighborhood or building a McMansion nearby. I’m not buying or selling or participating in any way in the real estate market. Make these new buyers pay all the tax increase and leave existing owners alone. Maybe make land developers responsible for all new infrastructure costs, and cover costs of necessary increases in City and County services to cover the new development. This won’t require existing residents and taxpayers to subsidize new development. This is the first housing boom in Wyoming history that hasn’t been linked to corresponding economic activity that adds to the local tax base. This new growth cost the State and Local governments far more in services and infrastructure improvements than it generates in tax revenue. And existing residents are getting hammered as a result.


  8. I don’t have a problem with people paying their fair share..what I do have a problem with is the unrealized gain that old timers are forced to bear..they just want to live in their home and can’t afford the tax..if all branches of government would quit wasting money,hiring more employees at every tax increase.and live within their means we would all be better off..but with any firm of government if it makes sense don’t do it like that.. it’s hard to tell a politician to take money out of their own pocket..but it’s time someone does..

  9. While government is inefficient and generally not as effective as they could be – or portray themselves to be – this state needs to learn to be self sustaining. The minerals industry has carried the growth and bloat in government far too long. Granted, the increase in property taxes is unprecedented, but in recent history 70% of the load has been carried by minerals.

    If you want lower taxes, push government to be more efficient. For example, Education continues to claim they do not have enough money, but we spend the 2nd highest amount per student yet achieve middle to lower middle performance. Name one governmental organization that efficiently and effectively uses your tax dollars annually and there are 20 other organizations that are bloated and far less efficient than they can be. 1 of every 4 employees in the state works for government – the highest in the US.

    Quit pointing fingers at somebody else and realize the state as a whole is not carrying “their fair share.”

  10. Low and middle class income households feel the harshest impacts of inflated property taxes. It’s absolutely frustrating that our legislators self interests negates the struggles that we voters endure caused by your inability do the job for which you were elected.

  11. Wyomingites have a long history of wanting services without having to pay for them. The legislatures through the years have failed to educate their constituents about our constitutional duty to adequately fund our governments – state and local. Instead the legislators wimp out and find ways to offload the citizens’ tax burden onto the mineral extraction industries, businesses, and the federal government. It’s time we grow up and pay our fair shares.

  12. Well…. f’n DUH!!!!! This “Wyo file” serves the elected and bureaucrats…, NOT your slaves pay the taxes and go homeless to satisfy your GREED and LUST for tyranny.

  13. You are uninformed, please read the bill and do the math.
    Facts Are:
    • The Peoples Initiative to Exempt 50% of “Assessed Value” from Residential Property tax will reduce $135 million statewide.
    • Politicians and elected officials claim this will bankrupt their counties, not true. If that is the case, they have other issues.
    • The county keeps 89% of the revenue, 11% is kept by the taxpayers.
    • Legislature on February 17, 2023, put an additional $1.4 Billion in the Rainy-Day Savings, how about returning that to its taxpayers.
    • The Rainy-Day Savings Account currently has $25 Billion dollars in it, which is over $41,000 for every man, women, and child in Wyoming. While allowing Residential Property taxes to spiral upward out of control.
    • Did you know Wyoming Schools are fully funded in FY 2023-24 at $1.9 Billion dollars?
    • Approximately 63% of our property taxes in Albany County go to school’s.
    o School Foundation Fund Levy
    o Special School Levy
    o Six Mill County School Levy

    • Please note, that the Bill/Initiative does NOT cut property tax revenues in half for the County or State. It is a PORTION of one category. Oil, Agriculture, Personal Property, Solid Minerals, Natural Gas, etc. … ALL REMAIN as Property Tax for the County. They are NOT cut in half…ONLY the Residential Property Tax Portion.

    Did you know:
    • From July 2022—June 2023
    o Albany County received $13,995,200.88 from the state.
    o The city of Laramie received $16,967,464.76 from the state.
    o Wyoming paid out to all Counties, Cities and Towns $626,000,850.35
    • In 3-years my Albany County Property Taxes have gone up approximately 34%.
    • Residence is defined as House, Trailer House, Mobile House, Transportable Home, or Other dwelling place.

    It would certainly help the Wyoming economy if its residence can keep more of their hard earned money to counter act rising costs due to inflation and out of control government spending.

    1. Thanks very much for the financial information. Any loss of revenue in any governmental body always brings out Chicken Little. Perhaps Wyoming can do as others (California) have done- reallocate the spending budget.

  14. So help me understand – my property taxes went up 106% over the past two years – meaning those who rely on those taxes now have 106% more in their “pockets” – quite a windfall. If I see a 50% reduction in my taxes they still have more than they had just two years ago. How does this possibly put a strain on their budgets?

    1. absolutely accurate in my case. The increase in the past two years could easily be reduced. People with more money than sense are driving assessed values up — beyond the ability of retired Wyomingites ability to pay. Let the rich moving to WY pay for their full tax burden. Allow those who are long time residents on fixed incomes a break.

  15. Please explain to me why the state legislature and the joint revenue committee are not considering splitting residential property from agriculture and commercial ? Here’s an example of what I’m talking about . A property in Albany county recently sold for approximately $1,05,000.00. The 2023 Assessor’s market value was only $199,000. How is that fair and equitable ? Obviously it’s not ! The main reason for the incredibly low tax evaluation is because it’s entirely being taxed as agriculture land ! A beautiful home on the river, and it is being taxed at virtually ZERO ! THIS IS WRONG AND THIS IS WIDESPREAD ! The inequality is skewed so far in favor of agriculture it’s criminal and fraudulent. Residential properties meanwhile, are being taxed at full, actual market value, to make up for the shortfalls of virtually no tax on ag land ! I say let ag land stand on it’s own ! This is so egregious and unacceptable, I will unelect any of my elected representatives who refuse to enact long term, meaningful tax reform ! Now !

    1. Thank you for bringing this up Mark. I agree, let ag lands stand on their own. Same with commercial. We need supportive and meaningful tax reform for everyone. The middle class has shouldered the heaviest and most unfair tax burden for ages and now it’s time for agriculture and commerce to pony-up. Those with the most wealth with the loudest voices should not be the ones who get the biggest tax breaks.
      Kudos to Liz Storer for her gallant and brilliant efforts. An amazing woman with such an

    2. The legislature did pass a constitutional amendment to separate residential from commercial this year. The amendment will go to the ballot next year (it is required to be on a general election year). If the amendment passes the vote, the legislature in the following year must then adjust the residential rate separately.

      See SJ0003 for the language – https://wyoleg.gov/Legislation/2023/SJ0003

    3. Yeah these farmers are such freeloaders there should be a hunting season on them I’m sure the realtors would supply the bullets.

      1. Not that true agriculturists are freeloaders. But that wealthy out of state land owners given such a tax break because they meet a minimum number of acres to be classified as “farmland”. The farm tax breaks should be only to producing agriculture