After property taxes soared for many Wyoming residents in 2022, lawmakers took aim at the issue, filling more than 20 bills this session intended to ease the burden for homeowners. Lawmakers have rejected only one of those proposals so far, but roughly half are at risk of dying this week with a critical deadline looming.
One bill, however, has emerged from the pack. Senate File 136 – Property tax relief-assessment rate reduction advanced through the Senate and is the only property-tax-relief bill lawmakers have moved to the second chamber so far.
The legislation would reduce the assessment rate for the “all other property” tax class, which includes residential, agricultural and commercial properties. If passed, it would knock the rate from 9.5% to 8.5%, effective for the 2022 tax year.
“We have constituents clamoring for us to do something about it,” Sen. Bo Biteman (R-Ranchester) told lawmakers while presenting the bill, which he co-sponsored.
Biteman said the bill is the “easiest and quickest” way to provide relief to residents, but others expressed worry about its repercussions for local governments and education, since property taxes fund both.
“We’re just tossing that little hot potato right on down to the localities,” Sen. Bill Landen (R-Casper) said on the Senate floor. “I just don’t think that’s right.”
As home values have shot up across Wyoming, so have property taxes. That’s because property is taxed ad valorem — or according to value. So the higher the property value, the higher the ad valorem tax.
Residential assessed values have been creeping up since 2014, according to a memo from the Wyoming Department of Revenue. In 2022, however, values skyrocketed in many counties. Lincoln and Teton counties’ values, for example, shot up by about 36%. The mean increase across Wyoming was 16.17%.
Department of Revenue Director Brenda Henson told the Senate Revenue Committee she’d never seen such increases during her decades-long career. Same goes for inflation, she added, which is being reflected in increased values. That has a ripple effect, Henson said.
“Not only does it impact residential property owners,” Henson said. “It also impacts what it costs to provide services, so we’re in quite a quandary here.”
But decreasing a key revenue source for counties — property taxes — amid rising costs has commissioners wondering how they’ll balance their budgets, which is part of Jerimiah Rieman’s rub with the bill. Rieman, executive director of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association, told the committee that inflation, and thereby assessment values, are expected to eventually decrease. Because of that, the bill offers a permanent solution to something temporary, he said, locking counties in with less revenue.
“It will have an effect when assessments come back down,” Rieman said. When Biteman responded that the Legislature could undo the law down the road, Rieman pointed to a longstanding lack of appetite amongst lawmakers and residents alike for tax increases.
“This hasn’t changed from the 9.5% since the 1989 legislative session,” Rieman said.
Brian Farmer with the Wyoming School Boards Association didn’t speak in favor or against the bill, but said because property taxes are a revenue source for the statewide education funding model, their reduction could impact the resources flowing to schools.
“If we get to the point where schools now have less money, the result there is known as a structural deficit,” Farmer explained. Because the state is constitutionally obligated to pay for education, Farmer said, it would need to draw on the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account, often referred to as the state’s “rainy-day fund” in that event of a school foundation program deficit.
“As [the bill] applies to the school side, it is very, very complex and difficult to know what the impact will be ultimately,” Farmer said.
The Senate Revenue Committee — which includes three of the bill’s sponsors — voted 4-1 in favor of the bill. Sen. Stephan Pappas (R-Cheyenne) voted against it.
After clearing that first hurdle, lawmakers brought amendments on the Senate floor to address “the quandary” raised by Henson, Rieman and others.
Biteman brought two successful amendments — one that changed the effective date and a second that amended the rate reduction.
Then, much to Biteman’s chagrin, Sen. Jim Anderson (R-Casper) proposed an amendment to add an appropriation of $84 million from the General Fund, so counties could be reimbursed by the state for decreased revenues resulting from the bill.
Without the amendment, the cost is “coming out of the counties, the cities, the special districts, community colleges, local school districts and the School Foundation Program,” Anderson said. “That’s who’s paying for this tax relief that we’re talking about doing now.” Anderson called the effort “a wonderful thing” but urged the Legislature to foot the bill.
Scott thought it would be more effective to deal with that in the budget next session, if need be, but Pappas described the body as having amnesia in similar circumstances in the past.
Similarly, Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) pointed to the now defunct grocery tax.
“We took that away because, ‘Don’t worry, the Legislature will backfill for it.’ Does anyone here or in the state that’s listening feel like the Legislature has effectively backfilled for the grocery tax?” Rothfuss asked. The direct distribution falls well short for what his community would expect to get from a grocery tax, he added.
Anderson’s $84 million amendment was challenged by Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne). Ultimately, the body voted 16-14 to reject the amendment, with one excused.
Sunset and rally
Senate President Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) lodged his opposition to the bill, saying “frankly, it’s bad tax policy.” Driskill pointed to its broad application, which would give the same tax break to those who are at risk of losing their home and the state’s wealthiest residents.
“They’re giggling about this one, they’re giggling. The guys that got $10 million houses, they’re gonna get a huge rebate back,” Driskill said. For that reason, Driskill brought a successful amendment to sunset the reduction after one year.
The two counties Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) represents — Carbon and Sweetwater — saw two of the lowest increases in residential assessed values. Hicks opposed the bill for being a “blunt instrument” for what should be “a surgical procedure,” since it could hurt counties like his that “didn’t experience any kind of windfall.”
“I never heard a single word about somebody worried about their property taxes” on the campaign trail, Hicks said. That was, however, the top issue voters talked to Sen. Tim Salazar (R-Riverton) about, he said.
“I simply could not go back to my constituency at the end of this session with nothing,” Salazar said.
Before the vote, Biteman gave one last, impassioned push.
“Since the body is in full retreat mode, I’m going to try to get the forces back in battle position here,” Biteman said. “We’re crying about special districts, we’re crying about community colleges.”
He then pointed up to the chamber’s balcony.
“We got taxpayer-funded lobbyists sitting up there, but we don’t have any people from the public here,” Biteman said. “We are their lobbyists! We are all they got!”
The Senate passed the bill 18-12 on third reading. It now goes to the House for consideration.
How will this affect Veterans/Disabled Veterans?
personal income tax, corporate income tax, real estate transfer tax–all ways to fund state programs, like nearly all other states do. wyo does none of it, but is willing to cut important programs. my husband and i live in an owner built, plain 1340 square foot house, with no improvements done since it was built in 1997, and our property tax went up 57% last year! of course we are seniors on social security. at least we have medicare–unlike many in wyo with no health insurance–though they would have insurance if medicaid got expanded, again like almost all other states.
Kind of a timely article for me. My current nighttime read is “Wyoming: The Paradox of Plenty,” written by former governor David Freudenthal (WordsWorth Publishing; Cody, Wy.). The first chapter or two discusses Wyoming’s tax history since it’s territorial status to almost current.
The book is subtitled “The Allure and Risk of a Mineral Economy.” So while the book will delve into energy (I’m not that far yet), there are portions discussing Wyoming taxes in general.
And I won’t pretend that I understand it all. The book is both interesting and dry. So I’m reading a chapter, soaking it in, and then revisiting it.
What “gold plated government services” would those be? Please enlighten me–inquiring minds would like to know!
Wyoming already has one of the lowest property tax rates in the country (ranking tenth lowest) so what are people complaining about? Yes, Wyoming used to give a rebate to the elderly on fixed incomes and that was a good program. Why not bring back these rebates instead of giving a huge tax rebate to people who can most afford it?
First and foremost, any property tax reduction should be income qualified. Sen. Driskill is correct, wealthy property owners with multiple properties do not need property tax relief. There are, however, residents on fixed income who do need assistance. Any relief should be targeted at those taxpayers. Another solution to consider (particularly in the northwest portion of Sen. Salazar’s district) would be a state capitol gains tax on property. This could be used to offset lowering annual property taxes. But of course, the welfare mentality of Wyomingites demands that the state to continue to provide gold plated state services without paying out of their own pocket for the services they receive.
Property taxes fund communities. Bringing the tax rate down without financial replacement relief for the counties is irresponsible. This bill should be defeated and until revenue to equal or exceed current taxes is found the tax rate should remain the same. Communities are being harmed by the downturn in energy which is going to continue. The Wyoming taxpayer is all we have because you refuse to put corporate taxes in place. Stupidity abounds.
Well put, Sheryl Yates. “Irresponsible” is the exactly right word.
If it is not broke, don’t fix it. It appears from everything I have read it’s the rich people that have moved to the state of Wyoming that are making all the noise.
If you want to live in Jackson or Teton county in general, pay your property tax.
Same for Lincoln county
Maybe our legislature should look at a tiered system. Keep the rates the same for property under $1 million. Increase rates for property over $1 million.
Or how about this: Wyoming natives get a property tax break. Maybe not fair but it is as fair as anything our legislature can come up with.
If we want good services in the state, then there needs to be taxes. Do I like paying my taxes? Probably not, but I want services, I want good education for children, I don’t want to legislature that is always trying to cut taxes and reduce services. The legislature needs to stop saving for a rainy day and start investing in the future.
Taxes are fast becoming a major impact on earned income. Politicans seem to get more creative every year on things to spend tax dollars on. Those dollars are taken from working ordinary folks, who must cut back on THEIR needs and wants. It is time to fund the non essentials with donations instead of taxes.
Property taxes rise because the value of the property increases. For a lot of people their house is their biggest asset. Is it not a good thing when the value of your assets increase? The cost of providing services that you all want like plowing snow rises with the increased value of your assets. How can you cut taxes to pay for services that are increasing. As Mike Madden has discussed in previous Wyofile articles the average taxpayers bill doesn’t even come close to paying for the services they receive. Be glad you are getting the discount you get in this state and don’t get greedy.
Agree. The energy and mining sectors basically supplement each taxpayer in Wyoming over $2,000 per taxpayer per year. They pay almost 75% of the total property taxes in my county. We would be in deep doda without them especially since we are one of the least populated states in the union; and, the cost of unfunded federal mandates impacts all the states. Look at Game and Fish funding grizzly bear recovery to the tune of about $65 million via an unfunded ESA listing. Thats a lot of money for a small state to absorb. Lets face it, the tax horse we’re riding is based on exporting our taxes to consumer states that consume our oil, gas, trona, bentonite, coal, and wind energy. We have it relatively good compared to other states. No state income tax either.
That is true, but higher value means nothing except more out of pocket costs to those who want to remain in their homes. Even worse those whose homes have dramatically increased “value” beyond the ability for older retired folks to pay. They probably cost more in taxes than the original cost. Is that even fair or right? Added to that is decreased income for older folks who cannot work. The other question is how much of what tax money is spent on is an actual necessity?
Property values are slow to lower, along with interest rates. By adjusting the percentage of property tax across Wyoming seems prudent, especially for those struggling in fixed and lower incomes.
maybe my math is too simple to understand, but if the property values are higher and the interest rate stays the same, the revenue is obviously higher. Why increase the interest rate? We are already paying more property tax with the new home values. I need someone to explain why they project lower income revenue.
Taxes every where are getting way out of hand. Yet quality of services for citizens has severely decreased. Now instead of “taxes” the scam is “FEES”. One small FEE after another. Traffic tickets are rising all over. If traffic fines are not source of income but “enforcement “ of laws. Why do they need to rise? Cost of printing citation book go up? Just nickel dimed to DEATH. start staying with in budget.