Casper, Wyo — Natrona County Commissioner candidate V Worth Christie hosted a public forum at The Hangar in Bar Nunn last Monday. Four Natrona County political candidates, a business owner, one reporter, one photographer, and one spouse were in attendance.
The small cross section of civil society nevertheless touched on a range of issues pertaining to Wyoming’s economic outlook. The state is facing an estimated $1.5 billion loss of energy and other revenues over the next two years due to the coronavirus pandemic and a plummet in the oil and gas market, one of Wyoming’s legacy industries.
Though raising taxes is anathema to many Republicans, Pat Sweeney said on Monday that it was “ridiculous” and “nonsense” to think the state could manage its budget without raising some taxes.
When asked what the simplest tax increase solutions might be, Sweeney began with, “A 1% across-the-board [increase in] sales tax. It can get put into place relatively quickly. And it may need to be 2%, frankly. 1% used to raise — before the pandemic and economic downturn — a little over $200 million per year. Now the estimate is around $140-150 million.”
Wyoming currently has a 4% statewide sales tax.
Sweeney said that, surprisingly, the Wyoming Taxpayers Association was amenable to repealing a sales tax exemption on food that has been in effect since 2007. A repeal of the exemption was most recently introduced as an amendment to Senate File 0057, which provided $105 million in direct distribution of state funds to cities and counties. SF057 passed without the food-tax repeal amendment in March of this year. Sweeney said he worried a resumption of the food tax might supplant continued direct distribution funding, which would hurt small municipalities like Midwest and Edgerton, which have small tax bases.
“I’m more in favor of increasing the gas tax. We tried to implement a 3-cent increase… we couldn’t even get it out of committee,” said Sweeney. “I truly believe that’s another low-hanging fruit, as long as we can dedicate that funding to where it should go, which is WYDOT.” He added that the distribution formula on the gas tax goes to county road and bridge funds.
He also proposed eliminating tax exemptions on law, mortuary, and medical services.
Candidates for Wyoming State House Representatives will be at a public forum in Washington Park Monday, July 13 for the Politics in the Park series held by the Republican Women of Natrona County.
A complete list of attendees at the event is as follows:
- Christie and his wife
- Incumbent County Commissioner Brook Kaufman,
- Incumbent State House District 58 Representative Patrick Sweeney
- Natrona County Coroner Jim Whipps
- Miracle Plumbing owner Mike Elston
- One Oil City News reporter
- One Photographer.