After years of inaction, Wyoming State House leadership has finally realized that the people are fed up with rising property taxes. Conservative legislators are gaining momentum and the statewide petition initiative to reduce property tax valuations on primary residences has the current majority/leadership running scared for their political lives. As a result, House leadership is promising to finally address the issue in an election year, and the proposals they are trumpeting are revealing: band-aids and progressive tax schemes.
Recent op-eds proclaim that a cap on property tax increases will “make property taxes predictable.” Thank you, sir, for that 5% increase, may I have another (every year)? This band-aid is too little, too late. It does nothing to take back any of the ground that homeowners have lost. Instead, it locks in the massive increases we’ve seen over the last several years. To compound things, a cap creates distortions in the market that over time will hurt homebuyers as property owners are incentivized to hold onto their property to keep their artificially limited property tax.
These same legislators are also promoting a progressive tax structure as part of their grand solution. They say that giving everyone the same $75,000 homestead exemption is “fair”, but in reality, it would turn residential property taxes into a progressive tax scheme, penalizing a lifetime of accumulated effort just like our progressive federal income tax penalizes success. In addition, a fixed exemption loses value every year, becoming a smaller percentage of property values every year as valuations rise, becoming yet another government created problem needing another fix down the road.
We need real solutions for the property tax problems we have, not a band-aid after the patient has already hemorrhaged 4 pints of blood, and not a progressive tax scheme. This requires a two-pronged approach.
First, there needs to be some rollback of the inflated property tax levels we have today. These increases have helped create an unprecedented high-water mark of revenue that has far outpaced inflation or any reasonable measure of the need for more government. Sheridan County revenue has increased from $15 million to $25 million since 2019 (look it up online). Has your income gone up 67% the last five years? Instead of allowing that flood of tax revenue to become the new normal, let’s get that horse back into the barn, or at least into the corral!
Second, as we roll back some of that burden that has been allowed to accumulate, we must address the root problem. Government growth should not be driven by property values. Normally when government has a need for additional revenue it must get approval for a tax increase from those being taxed. Revenue growth from increasing property valuations bypasses that approval process. It allows for government growth without any elected officials having to justify that growth.
The real issue is government/revenue growth in total dollars and the role property taxes play in that growth. If increasing property valuations generate increased revenue, then every county in the state should be forced to make a clear and public choice based on their needs: 1) reduce the millage to maintain the current amount of property tax revenue (which is just a portion of their total revenue), or 2) hold public meetings to explain the need for any additional increase in revenue and cast a public vote deciding what that increase should be. Constituents in every county can watch and decide for themselves whether their elected officials make the right decisions. This would create transparency and accountability for justified government growth.
It's time for real solutions, not band-aids and progressive tax schemes.