By Nick Reynolds
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE — A bill to create Wyoming’s first corporate income tax – believed dead since last week – might be making a comeback.
The National Retail Fairness Act, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Obermueller, R-Casper, and fast-tracked through the lower chamber of the Wyoming Legislature, was among the most controversial pieces of legislation introduced this session. If passed, it would have implemented a 7 percent income tax on specific corporations with more than 100 shareholders in an effort to target “big box stores” and other corporate entities operating on interstate pricing models.
Backed by House and Senate leadership, the bill was expected to be one of the state’s few successful revenue-raising proposals at a time where money from minerals and oil and gas – though increased in recent years – have underperformed compared to historic highs.
However, the bill attracted significant attention from national groups like Americans For Tax Reform and the Tax Foundation and, in a hearing last week before the Senate committee that oversees corporations, lawmakers heard more than three hours of testimony from a slew of corporate lobbyists, think tank economists and conservative activists opposed to any sort of tax increase.
Rumors around the potential revival of House Bill 220 have been swirling since it was laid back by Labor Committee Chairman Bill Landen in dramatic fashion on Tuesday night, when he appeared to kill the bill without a vote, saying he knew the fate the bill faced across the hall. This was despite Sen. Drew Perkins, R-Casper, telling reporters in previous conversations he believed the legislation had the votes needed to pass.
The decision, which came down on the final day bills could be heard in committee, left many to conclude that the bill was all but dead.
However, as of Wednesday night, some believed the bill could be revived. Members of the Senate Labor Committee were seen speaking in the Senate chambers long after the body had adjourned on Wednesday night and, on Thursday morning, rumors of two tallied lists for a potential floor vote to bring the bill back – one of which was confirmed in an interview with Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, who supports the bill – hinted at a nearly 50-50 split on the Senate floor.
The alleged author of that list, Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, played coy when asked about the tally on Thursday morning. “We’re reviewing our options along the way,” he said.
Though the bill was still in committee on Tuesday when the deadline came around, lawmakers can – should they choose to – make a motion to suspend the rules and pull the bill from that committee, where they could then assign it to another.
Because the only committees still hearing bills are the Committees of the Whole in both chambers, the bill would have to go directly to the Senate – effectively overriding the committee process and its lack of a vote.
Lobbyists interviewed by the Star-Tribune generally expressed dismay at the developments on Thursday morning, saying that reviving the bill after all of the affected parties had gone home was, in the words of longtime lobbyist Dave Picard, “not a good way to do policy,” adding that the Legislature has rules for a reason and the suspension of those rules removes any sort of predictability from the process.
Though unprecedented, a close parallel to this year’s episode was seen in the 2007 legislative session with a bill that specified which types of bingo games were legal. It failed introduction before the Legislature suspended the rules and fast-tracked the bill to the governor’s desk in only two days.
“It was surreal, sitting in the balcony and seeing it happen,” said Mike Moser, a longtime lobbyist. “But it was exciting to watch. I’d never seen anything like that before.”
If the Legislature were to pursue this route, the bill would have to move fast. Monday was the last day for bills to receive their third reading in their second house.
However, lawmakers could suspend the rules at any time, as they have done several times this session, making the deadlines — when convenient — arbitrary.
“There’s multiple routes you could take,” said Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, on Friday. “There’s no way to go directly to third reading. I’ve never seen a bill that doesn’t go through three readings. You can expedite them, like the House has done (the House expedited several bills from second to third reading this week) but I don’t know.”
“It’s still possible,” said Dockstader, in press availability on Friday. “But at this point, I don’t know.”