Legislators Look At Taxes And Cuts To Solve Education Funding Shortfalls

Dec 4, 2017

Credit Design by Tennessee Watson

Wyoming lawmakers are coming at shortfalls in education funding from multiple directions as they head into the 2018 Budget Session. Through the work of interim legislative committees, they are looking for efficiencies in education and ways of generating revenue, hoping to meet somewhere in the middle.

The Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration is tasked with examining the current school funding model and finding ways to cut costs. This week, it met with education funding consultants and wrapped up with an overview of possible revenue generating measures including slight increases to sales tax and property tax.

Senate Revenue Committee Chairman Ray Peterson told policymakers the state needs to wean itself off an over-dependence on revenues from the energy industry.  Speaker of the House Steve Harshman said Wyoming has done a good job of gleaning revenue from sources outside the state.

“There are Wyoming producers, but the biggest ones that pay the taxes are multinational corporations headquartered around the world,” said Harshman. “That’s 70 percent of our total.”

As for other revenue sources in the state, Harshman said: “We don’t tax much. And we’re absolutely 49th or 50th on the rest of our taxes, and we’re proud of that.”

Harshman said declining revenues from the energy industry will require residents to carry more of the burden. But that the small increases proposed by the revenue committee will make a big difference over time.

But they are still missing an important piece of the puzzle, according to Representative Cathy Connolly, which is the recalibrated cost of education from the consultants.

“Honestly we don’t have those end results. We just don’t,” said Connolly. “The consultants are working at kind of break neck speed, but there was no dollar figure that was associated with their recommendations.”

That leaves the revenue committee with uncertainty about exactly how much revenue they need to generate as they head into the next round of committee meetings according to Connolly, but she said she’s optimistic about pulling the pieces together by February.