By Ramsey Scott
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE — The cycle of Wyoming state government looking for solutions to keep its revenue stream stable could be in for another rotation.
A bill passed out of the House Revenue Committee on Wednesday on a 5-3 vote to create a new revenue recalibration task force. The mission would be to come up with viable options for changes in the state and local tax structure to keep Wyoming from being subject to the booms and busts associated with the mineral market.
House Bill 126, sponsored by Rep. Dan Kirkbride, R-Chugwater, would create an 11-member group, with five members appointed by the governor, three members from the Senate and three members from the House. At least one member from the two chambers would be from the minority party.
"We're not bound to live and die with the way we're currently doing it," Kirkbride said during the committee meeting.
"This bill provides for a comprehensive look at how we fund the state," Kirkbride said. We've done a lot of things that I think were patches, but we haven't put on a new tire yet. We've come up with a million here and $10 million there, and those have been fixes. But as someone pointed out, they're not necessarily solutions."
The task force is reminiscent of the efforts of the Tax Reform 2000 group in the late 1990s that was formed with the same goals in mind. At that time, a bust prompted the state to find alternatives to being completely tied to the energy sector.
The group's report identified the major issue of residents paying so little in taxes compared to how many governmental services they receive. One of the major proposals to come out of that effort was a personal and corporate income tax. But that and other suggestions, like expanding the tax base, were essentially shelved when another boom came along and helped close a significant budget gap.
The similarities between this bill and the efforts in the Tax Reform 2000, and other such studies conducted since then, were not lost on some of the members of the committee.
"What fundamental questions does this study that we're getting at that we don't already know from the Tax Reform 2000 initiative?" asked Rep. Cyrus Western, R-Sheridan. "Are there any big questions we're trying to figure out that can't be found elsewhere?"
Kirkbride himself said his bill was patterned on the work of that group. But it was important for the Legislature and others to re-examine the issue, he said, especially given the fundamental changes in the energy industry that everyone now recognizes.
Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sun-dance, a co-sponsor of HB 126, said many things have changed in the state, including the development of new products and services. It was important for this new group to re-examine everything and figure out ways the state can shift the tax burden in a more equitable way. And unlike a committee in the Legislature, a task force could devote countless hours on the issue without being distracted by other issues.
"(If) we're going to look down on these issues, it should really be a task force. They can needle down on it," Lindholm said. "Doesn't mean I'm going to support the bills that come out of it. But just the same, I think the information is good.”