Seven months ago, it looked like it could be a good year for Wyoming’s economic competitiveness. Wyoming is a unique state, as we have a strong policy foundation, but we encounter major issues …
Seven months ago, it looked like it could be a good year for Wyoming’s economic competitiveness. Wyoming is a unique state, as we have a strong policy foundation, but we encounter major issues that arise, such as natural gas prices hitting a record low this year. In the last year, though, we made several great moves to promote fiscal restraint and responsible spending, which advanced good policy fundamentals.
In fact, in August it was announced that we ranked the second-best state for economic outlook in the annual ALEC report, Rich States, Poor States, improving by eight rankings due to free market policies that return hard-earned dollars to the people of Wyoming rather than putting them in government coffers. Wyoming also ranks 15th in Other Post-Employment Benefits, fourth in unfunded pension liabilities and first in state bonded obligations among all 50 states.
Our years of limited government, pro-taxpayer policy made us one of the best prepared states for fiscal shocks from the pandemic. However, even the best-prepared states still faced a financial blow. This showed us the work to be done, and Gov. Mark Gordon promptly directed Wyoming state agencies to cut 10% of their budgets to make up for a portion of the estimated $1.5 billion revenue drop expected over the next two years.
This wasn’t an easy decision for our governor, but it was the necessary first step in the right direction to get our feet back on the ground. Sticking to the principles that guided our good economic foundation before the COVID-19 health crisis is a way to come out the other side stronger than before.
And there is still work to be done. In the Joint Revenue Interim Committee meeting at the end of August, we debated proposed tax increases. The first sought to repeal several sales and use tax exemptions and include taxes on food purchases, agricultural services and recreational activities. The second sought to raise Wyoming’s sales and use tax rate up by 1%.
But, if our pandemic preparedness has taught us anything, it is that fiscal restraint works to build resiliency in a state’s economy, and raising tax rates is among the first proposed “solutions” to rule out.
In the past I have stood against efforts to bring a corporate tax to Wyoming, and I have also made a pledge to my constituents to keep standing up against all new taxes proposed while we rebuild what we have lost. That’s because I know these types of tax increases harm economic competitiveness and cause residents to flee a state.
Now is the time to stand strong and rely on the solutions we know work and oppose those that are counterproductive. That is why I signed a letter, along with over 200 other state legislators, urging our state leaders to oppose a federal bailout of the states. While some argue it would help in the short-term, the long-term costs of federal regulations are massive.
Gov. Gordon has already proven that he’s willing to make the principled, although sometimes difficult, route to return Wyoming to its strong fiscal standing. It’s time we all do the same. Accepting more federal funding is harmful to taxpayers and the states themselves.
Recently, the new 2020 Laffer-ALEC Report on Economic Freedom was released, which ranks our governors and other state executives across the states based on the pillars of economics, including spending, regulations and tax policy. Gov. Gordon’s good budget decisions were reflected in these rankings as he ranked among the top 15 governors in 11th place. I hope the Wyoming Legislature will take a note and continue to prioritize fiscal responsibility to return to our good economic standing as soon as possible.
Quick fixes in our own state are just that — quick and dirty. We need to instead prioritize the decision-making that is based on sound and proven policy solutions. Just because we were one of the most economically competitive states does not mean we should take the easy outs. We will overcome this as we’ve overcome the obstacles before us, and we should do it while keeping our taxpayers’ money in their pockets.
(State Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, represents House District 25 in the Wyoming Legislature. Laursen — who is also the Wyoming state chair of the American Legislative Exchange Council — was re-elected to a fourth term on Nov. 3. This piece first appeared in The Washington Times.)