Wyoming Lawmakers Work To Counteract Skyrocketing Property Tax Bills

Of 21 bills filed this session to ease exploding property tax increases, Rep. Liz Storers House Bill 99 has emerged a favorite. It calls for relief to kick in when property tax bills are more than 10% of someones gross income.

Renée Jean

February 17, 20235 min read

Expensive jackson home
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter

Twenty-one of Wyoming’s 23 counties posted double-digit property tax increases last year.

In Teton County, where the hike was 36%, Rep. Liz Storer told lawmakers on the Senate Travel Committee on Thursday that she got an earful on the campaign trail. 

“Frankly, as I went door-to-door, almost everyone brought it up, no matter what kind of home they lived in,” said the Democrat legislator from Jackson.

Storer spoke in favor of House Bill 99, which so far has sailed through without opposition. It expands an existing tax rebate program to provide more relief for property owners when their tax bills exceed a certain percent of their overall annual income.

Keep People In Their Homes

An “average” home in Teton County — 1,500 square feet, two bedrooms, two baths — is going for a very un-average $1.5 million to $2 million dollars. 

“That translates to a property tax of $9,000 or more,” Storer said. 

While some of the stories Storer heard while campaigning were of the less sympathetic sort — such as someone owning a second vacation home — there were more concerning accounts that did catch her attention. 

“There are longtime residents who really have lived in the county for 30, 40 years, raised a family and are now set to retire,” she said. “They had a small business in many cases and have been responsible citizens by actually having saved for retirement. 

“And yet, because of the asset provision in the statute, they would not qualify for a reduction in their property tax.” 

Helping middle income people in her county who are struggling to pay property tax bills is what lies behind what she calls a “circuit breaker” amendment she brought to the Legislature this session, which has been attached to House Bill 99. 

Tax bills that exceed a certain percentage of a household’s budget would trip the “circuit breaker,” allowing families to still qualify for some relief.

Six Remain

At least 21 bills this session have taken aim at taming the inflation fire that’s burning up the budgets of many Wyomingites. Of those, only six remain. 

House Bill 99 is one of the efforts still in play that seems to have built the most momentum, with unanimous votes in the House and the Senate Travel Committee. 

The bill would expand an existing state-funded property tax refund program by allowing people with higher income levels, up to 125% of the median county or state income, whichever of the two is highest. 

Qualified applicants would also be able to get a much larger refund on property taxes than before. The old percentage was 50%, but the new one is up to 90% of their tax bill.

Applicants must have lived in the Cowboy State at least five years and occupy their home at least nine months of the year to qualify. 

The bill would place limits on assets that could be held by each member in the household to qualify. It is those limits that are the subject of Storer’s circuit breaker.  

Textbook Case 

Storer offered lawmakers the example of a widow whose home is worth $1.75 million. This works out to a tax obligation of $9,400, but the widow’s gross income is just $60,000, making her tax bill around 15% of her income. 

She would qualify for Wyoming’s tax refund program, except that she was responsible and saved $200,000 for her retirement.  

This is where Storer’s proposed circuit breaker comes in. It would kick in whenever a tax bill exceeds 10% of a taxpayers gross income. Now the widow could qualify for a tax refund that makes her bill a more equitable percentage of her income. 

She wouldn’t have to choose between medicine and her tax bill. She wouldn’t have to sell her home and go live somewhere else. 

“I think (House Bill 99) is an appropriate way to give a break,” Storer said. “But we just still seemed to be missing that sector of folks who had saved and so, in this case, the income limits and the residence requirements, and the owner-occupied would all still apply.” 

The circuit breaker was well received in the House, Storer said. House Bill 99 passed unanimously with the amendment attached.

Many supporters 

Several groups came forward Thursday to testify in favor of House Bill 99 as amended, including Wyoming Taxpayers Association Executive Director Ashley Harpstreith.  

Harpstreith noted she’s had a busy session, testifying on the barrage of property tax relief bills. While her organization testified against a number of them, this one has found favor with Wyoming Tax Association.  

“It is justified, as property taxes have dramatically and this provides targeted relief,” she said. “It is equitable, as it applies to the taxpayers that fall within the required criteria.” 

It also provides that relief without disrupting reliable revenue streams for taxing entities and without introducing unwanted volatility, she said. 

“It is transparent, as this expands the successful program currently in place,” she said. “We feel this is the vehicle to provide immediate and targeted relief.” 

Other groups testifying in favor of the bill included the Wyoming County Commissioners Association, AARP Wyoming, Petroleum Association of Wyoming and the Wyoming County Treasurer’s Association. 

Where The Bill Stands 

House Bill 99 sailed through the House with unanimous support in both committee and on the floor. The Senate Travel Committee also sent the bill to the Senate floor with a unanimous vote.

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Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter