Wyoming Senate Candidates Give a Reluctant Nod to Tax Increases
Two veteran Wyoming Republican senators dared to utter the dreaded “T” word during a pleasant evening of politicking in Washington Park.
“We need to keep taxes low,” said Charlie Scott, who is running for his party's nomination for another term in the Aug. 18 primary to represent Senate District 30, which is nearly all the 5,376-square-mile Natrona County except for three senate districts from Casper to the Converse County line.
“That’s going to be a struggle this year,” Scott said at the early Monday evening gathering of Republicans in Washington Park organized by the the Natrona County Republican Women. The next forum will be at 6 p.m. Aug. 3 and feature the U.S. Senate Candidates.
Monday's forum featured the candidates for Senate districts 28 and 30; and incumbent Coroner James Whipps, who was appointed to fill the remaining term of Connie Jacobson who retired in August, faces Don Halberg.
Scott faces Charles Schoenwolf, who was a no-show. Incumbent Jim Anderson of SD28 faces political newcomer Dr. Ryan Jackson.
No Democrats are running for these positions.
For the Legislature, the money will be everything.
Budget shortfall projections have reached well over $1 billion, and that could exhaust the state’s reserves for the next biennium, said Scott, the state’s current longest-serving legislator. “I’ve been through a few of these downturns, but nothing like this.”
The Legislature may have to look at some taxes, with the best ones that are paid by businesses other than those in Wyoming, he said.
Anderson said the two budget elephants in the bedroom are education, which consumes $1.9 billion, and the health department which costs $1.7 billion, he said.
Portions of those departments have taken budget hits, except for K-12 education, Anderson said.
“I think we’re going to see some tax increases,” he said, specifically an increase in the sales tax. Each penny of sales taxes brings in $105 million in revenue, he added. “That’s a real possibility.”
However, an income tax is a non-starter, Anderson said.
Jackson did not not discuss taxes specifically.
However, he, Scott and Anderson were asked about Gov. Mark Gordon’s recommendations for across-the-board budget cuts in nearly all departments except for K-12 spending.
Jackson said he has worked as a physician, business administrator and educator including running a medical school in the Caribbean. He has great concern about mental health issues and would oppose cutting funding for mental health issues including suicide prevention, he said.
He’s seen how to trim spending in education, adding K-12 education may have to be cut some, but not by 20%, he said.
Anderson disagreed, saying K-12 could take a 20% cut and not even notice it. He applauded the Natrona County School District for being foresighted to close school buildings and trim administrative positions.
Scott also said school districts could trim administration and the costs of busing. But he said elementary schools could do more to make sure that children are reading well by the third grade, otherwise the education system will need to spend more in the long run for adult literacy.
They also were asked whether sales tax exemptions — a bane of legislative revenue committees for years — should continue to exist.
Anderson said he served on the Senate Revenue Committee and learned there were 148 categories with sales tax exemptions, and some should be eliminated although that effort would be met with resistance by those industries.
Scott responded with “yes and no.”
He still favors the sales tax exemption on groceries because it regressively affects the poor.
Jackson expanded on that, saying he was raised by a single mother. “I can see sales tax on groceries how it hits the poorest of the poor.”
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