Last week, I co-hosted a town hall in Buffalo with the Chairman of the Johnson County Commission to discuss property taxes and possible solutions to the large tax increases faced by the citizens of our great State. The event was well attended by Johnson County and Sheridan County folks. As one might expect, many people were very upset about their property tax amounts. I do not blame them. This continued upward trajectory is going to put a lot of Wyoming people at risk of losing their homes.
At one point during the town hall, a local Johnson County resident who is a strong supporter of the Wyoming Freedom Caucus (the self-proclaimed conservatives of the Wyoming Legislature) told the crowd that the tax problem would only be fixed if Wyoming elected more Freedom Caucus members. She asked me why the legislature did not do more to solve the property tax problem facing our state’s homeowners.
I responded to this question with the inconvenient truth – the Wyoming Freedom Caucus and the legislators that collaborate with the group are the reason we did not do more to solve the property tax dilemma. The very people she wants to support in the next election are the same people responsible for her lack of property tax relief.
I explained that the Wyoming Freedom Caucus, and those legislators aligned with the group, killed several bills that would have created immediate tax relief. For example, House Bill 98, which established a $50,000 homeowner’s exemption was killed by allies of the Wyoming Freedom Caucus in the Senate Revenue Committee. Similarly, the Freedom Caucus voted against House Bill 121, which set up a property tax deferral program. This bill also died in the Senate Revenue Committee.
The Wyoming Freedom Caucus voted against an effort to achieve long-term residential property tax reform (House Joint Resolution 2) and killed the bill on final reading.
I also told the crowd how the Wyoming Freedom Caucus joined forces with the Democrats to prevent debate on Senate File 136, a bill which would have lowered the assessment rate on residential properties and created tax reductions for all homeowners. Unfortunately, the House didn’t even get to the vote on passage of the bill because of the Wyoming Freedom Caucus.
I told the crowd that I, and many other legislators that were trying to address the property tax problem, voted for the very bills that the Wyoming Freedom Caucus and its allies killed. Many of us were trying to help in any way we could knowing any dollar of relief is better than none. But we were unsuccessful.
I closed my answer to the question posed by asking all those in attendance to discover the truth themselves and not simply take my word as fact. I implored the audience to visit the Wyoming Legislature’s website (wyoleg.gov) and see how their elected officials voted on the tax bills which were the subject of the town hall.
Ironically, since the legislative session adjourned the Freedom Caucus has been blaming other legislators for failing to fix the property tax issue. At one point, the group said anyone who voted against the property tax relief is “unethical.” Last week, the group insinuated on social media that certain legislators outside their group don’t care about the property tax increases. Obviously, if you examine the voting records, you can see that the group is simply trying to hide the truth.
So, today I write this letter and tell the story of my town hall because I believe it is important to unmask the inconvenient truth being hidden by the Wyoming Freedom Caucus. I think all of Wyoming should know why tax relief failed, not just the people that attended my town hall.
And while some voted against property relief last legislative session, it is incumbent on all Wyoming legislators to find a path forward to solve the property tax problem. We must work together, regardless of our political differences, to protect our citizens from skyrocketing property taxes. Any relief we can bring to Wyomingites is better than holding out for a perfect solution. I pledge to do this myself and challenge all other Wyoming legislators to do the same.
Rep. Crago, R-Buffalo, represents House District 40