Property tax relief has been a main focus for the Wyoming Legislature so far, with a dozen or so bills introduced this session, but few create actual reform.
House Bill 100 proposes to study an idea that some believe could bring more uniformity to Wyoming’s property tax system, by moving from assessed valuations to a system based on the purchase price of a property.
Rep Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan, sponsored the bill and said there were anecdotal accounts from Wyoming assessors during interim study that suggest there have been problems with uniformity from county to county and favoritism with the more familiar assessed valuation system, similar to how vehicles are taxed.
He acknowledged there have been issues in some states with property tax acquisition systems, such as the one that was part of California’s Proposition 13.
Wyoming isn’t California, Jennings said, but tax experts in the Cowboy State have suggested there could be some advantages under the right parameters.
Whether that is truly the case is what House Bill 100 would try to determine.
High Property Taxes
The bill comes as Wyoming residents have faced soaring property tax rates in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pre-pandemic, rates were increasing 3% to 4% annually, but last year they took an average 16% leap across the state, according to Wyoming Department of Revenue figures.
The jump was much higher in certain counties — 36% for Teton County.
In Lincoln County, an old beat-up doublewide trailer sold for $675,000, according to testimony from Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton.
He mentioned that during deliberation of a failed Senate joint resolution that proposed changing the state Constitution to give residential property its own category. That way relief could be targeted to homeowners without affecting agriculture and commercial property.
Lawmakers also shot down a House joint resolution that sought to do a similar thing, but without capping tax increases.
It’s not the first time Wyoming lawmakers have talked about studying the property tax acquisition, or purchase price approach.
Last time, the study bill failed because it was too vague, Jennings said. The new version attempts to solve that by spelling out a minimum set of questions that should be answered. The questions came from Department of Revenue and Wyoming County Assessors.
The new version appears on track to pass the second time through.
It cleared the House with an overwhelming 58-2 vote and seems to have similar support in the Senate, after gaining unanimous approval from both the Senate Revenue and Senate Appropriations committees.
In his testimony to both committees, Jennings said he’s not overly fond of “study” bills, but believes this one is necessary.
“You guys all know the issues around the state of property taxes,” he said during the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday. “I’m not saying this is the solution. I’m saying that this bill answers, or is an attempt to answer, what we don’t know.”
Several amendments have been tacked onto House Bill 100 during its journey through the Legislature.
On the House side, lawmakers felt specifying the year that study consultants should use was too prescriptive. That was struck, as was the word “shall” in a sentence directing lawmakers to act on the bill.
The appropriation for the study was amended to $50,000, which lawmakers suggested would give Department of Revenue some wiggle room to hire the best consultants for the job.
Senate committees, meanwhile, added amendments requiring a consideration of equities among taxpayers, as well as a review of how the approach went in states that have tried it.
Where The Bill Stands
House Bill 100 cleared the house on a vote of 58-2 with amendments that made the bill a little more open-ended for study consultants and raised the allowable expense for the study to $50,000.
The bill cleared both the Senate Revenue and Senate Appropriations committees unanimously.
An amendment was added directing study of tax equity as well as how the effort went in other states. The bill has been placed on the General File, teeing it up for consideration by the Senate.