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Monday, February 3, 2020

Session 2020: Bills to Keep an Eye On

We are a week away now from Governor Gordon's State of the State Address, which marks the beginning of the 2020 legislative session. It is time to take inventory of the bills that have been filed so far. 

Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee

According to this bill, the governor is supposed to be the administrator of a coal marketing account for projects "with a public benefit associated with expanding and protecting Wyoming's coal markets and coal facilities" and to address impacts on "cities, town and counties ... due to changes in the coal market".

No. It is not the state's role to market the products of individual industries. The wording in this bill basically allows the state government to spend money on coal marketing because more coal sales will increase tax revenue ("public benefit"). In other words, the bill supports the false notion that government should be in the business of picking winners for whom it will advertise, and losers for whom it won't advertise. 

Select Committee on School Facilities

This is not a big bill per se, but the message in it is worth noting: "clarifying that procurement activities by a school district that are conducted through a board of cooperative educational services are subject to publication and competitive bidding requirements".

Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Interim Committee

This bill would authorize "the deposit of certain specific purpose excise taxes into reserve accounts" with required approval "form the governing body and qualified electors of a county" to spend the money.

The bill imposes quantitative spending restrictions that appear to automatically build up significant balances in these accounts. We don't need more of our tax money stashed away somewhere in a bank account. We need less money taken from the private sector in the first place. This bill is a prime example of the conventional-wisdom line of thinking that only favors government at the expense of taxpayers. We need to part with that and start prioritizing the private sector at the expense of non-essential government functions.

Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Interim Committee

It is not a big deal per se to create a task force for this purpose, but there is something else lurking behind this. Remember what Governor Gordon said back in November about spending on mental health programs: he believes that the state needs almost exactly the same amount of money for mental health programs as the state would take in from the corporate income tax. 

Plain and simple: this bill is part of a morally loaded effort to sell us the corporate income tax. If it came with a clear mandate to not increase government spending, the case for it would change dramatically.

Joint Revenue Interim Committee

Here we go: expect your local sales and use taxes to go up and stay up. This is an act "authorizing an election on the question of permanently imposing a portion of the local general purpose sales and use taxes". This bill would also decrease "the number of local entities required to approve provisions related to specified local sales and use taxes" and increase "the amount of time between elections for specified local sales and use taxes". Furthermore, it would authorize "the implementation of an optional municipal sales and use taxes [sic]".

All these measures will put more distance between you, the taxpayer, and the jurisdiction to impose, raise and keep taxes high. 

Joint Appropriations Committee

Is our governor worth $150,000 per year? Are the secretary of state, school superintendent, state treasurer and state auditor worth $120,000? Maybe,  maybe not. The point here is not the amount they should or should not be paid - which is what the bill is about - but instead the idea that government officials should get raises independently of their performance. 

There is, really, only one performance measure that can thoroughly and decisively clarify whether or not our government is doing a good job: is, or is not, the private sector growing? If people who work in the private sector see an advancement in their compensation, then the compensation of our government officials should go up by the same amount. If there is no growth in the private sector, or if private-sector employee compensation declines, then the compensation of government officials should follow suit. 

If we tied government pay to private-sector pay this way, I can guarantee that our legislators and our governor would be scrambling for every which way to promote economic growth without growing government. They would curtail, perhaps even reduce government spending, they would keep regulations to a minimum and reduce the tax burden in every cardinal direction. 

Perhaps the Appropriations Committee would be so kind and rewrite this bill for next year instead?

Joint Revenue Interim Committee

Get ready for another three cents on your gasoline bill. 

There are better ways to fund our highways. Here is one idea. However, any reform has to be based on the principle that it does not impose new taxes. I explained this recently in an article on the proposal to put a toll on I-80 (see below). This fuel-tax hike is the wrong way to go.

Joint Revenue Interim Committee

The seven-percent corporate income tax, which is also a camel's nose under the tent for a personal income tax.

This tax is now back in its third iteration. Remember the "gross receipts tax"? That is how this thing started. It has been around for three years now, and it gets worse with every new redesign. This one is bad because:

It is time for the legislature to put a silver bullet in this tax.

Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee

There is a good way to do tolling, and there is a bad way to do it. As I explain in this article, this particular bill does it the bad way. This bill would design the tolling system to increase government revenue. That can never be the purpose behind a toll. It should only be put in place as part of a reform to downsize government. 

That is all on 2020 session bills for now. A lot more to come, though...

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