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ARCHIVED  April 1, 1997

State committee analyzes Wyoming’s tax structure

CHEYENNE — Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer and Michael Walden-Newman of the Wyoming Taxpayers Association have something in common.

They both think the bill creating the Wyoming Tax Reform 2000 Committee could be the most important bill to emerge from the 1997 Legislature, because their hope is that it will provide a long-term vehicle to reform and stabilize Wyoming’s tax structure.

That might sound a little unusual — a governor and the executive director of a taxpayers group agreeing on something that could bring sweeping changes to tax structure in a state that doesn’t like to tax very much.

But Geringer and Walden-Newman have both been visionaries who have seen flaws in Wyoming’s low-tax and no-tax structure and foreseen a day of reckoning coming.

The bill establishes an 11-member committee — five appointed by the governor and six by legislative leaders — to analyze current state and local revenues, determine what other governments do, suggest what is needed for Wyoming’s long-term state and local needs, identify potential future revenue options and make recommendations for the Legislature meeting in the year 2000.

Mineral industry eyes committee

It is a committee that will be watched closely by Wyoming’s mineral industry, which currently pays the bulk of the bills; by nonmineral businesses, who typically pay less than they would in neighboring states; and by individual taxpayers, who currently enjoy the second lowest personal tax burden in the nation after Alaskans.

The legislation was crafted by three former legislators — State Revenue Director Johnnie Burton, State Agriculture Director Ron Micheli and Geringer aide Cynthia Lummis — as well as Walden-Newman, and enjoyed bipartisan support. Supporters emphasize it is not an attempt to spawn general tax increases or new taxes but is an attempt to get a handle on how Wyoming raises money.

“Possibly the most important bill this session is the Wyoming Tax Reform 2000 bill to re-evaluate Wyoming’s revenue system,” Geringer said in bidding legislators adieu after a fast-paced 36-day session that put off consideration of the burning issue of equalizing school funding.

(Wyoming’s Legislature will tackle that thorny issue during a special session in June, the month before the July 1 deadline imposed by the Wyoming Supreme Court in its 1995 landmark school-funding ruling declaring the current system unconstitutional).

From a business and economic-development standpoint, Wyoming’s 1997 General Session was relatively bland, with a few significant exceptions, that may be remembered more for what it didn’t do than what it did do.

For example, there were no major changes to workers’ compensation or unemployment compensation, and there were no new taxes approved. (The only tax issue getting serious consideration was a nickel-a-gallon fuel-tax increase, which passed the House but failed in the Senate, but the governor has recommended taking another look at tax issues in the June special session).

Once again, the Legislature balked at proposing a constitutional amendment that would allow future legislatures to cap damages in civil suits, it defeated a three-year statute of limitations for civil lawsuits, and it rejected mandatory health-insurance coverage for certain wellness benefits such as mammograms.

The Legislature also killed a proposal to make environmental self-audits more feasible, it rejected legislation that would expand use of lodging-tax money, and it defeated a proposal that would have limited property-valuation increases to 10 percent.

Business measures approved

There were, however, some measures approved that portend major changes in Wyoming’s business community in coming years:

” Interstate branch banking was approved, allowing Wyoming to become one of the last states to opt in to the new national interstate branch-banking system that goes into effect this June.

” The governor’s proposed Workforce Development Training Fund was approved. It will establish a training fund from a portion of current unemployment insurance fund money to provide grants to individual businesses for employee training.

” A State Business Council was established to help coordinate economic-development efforts, and the state matched private funding to hire a consultant to help develop a state business plan.

” A welfare-reform measure would require the state to maintain a directory of all new hires to help locate parents delinquent in child-support payments.

” A sales-and-use-tax exemption would be granted motion-picture production companies that spend more than $500,000 on a movie shoot in the state.

” A requirement for work permits for children under 16 was eliminated.

CHEYENNE — Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer and Michael Walden-Newman of the Wyoming Taxpayers Association have something in common.

They both think the bill creating the Wyoming Tax Reform 2000 Committee could be the most important bill to emerge from the 1997 Legislature, because their hope is that it will provide a long-term vehicle to reform and stabilize Wyoming’s tax structure.

That might sound a little unusual — a governor and the executive director of a taxpayers group agreeing on something that could bring sweeping changes to tax structure in a state that doesn’t like to tax very much.

But Geringer and Walden-Newman have…

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