Person to Person, Not Bot to Bot
Wyoming Rep. Barry Crago’s op-ed pointing out the Freedom Caucus’s checkered past with respect to property tax reform must have struck a nerve. I had to chuckle reading two recent letters to the editor complaining about Rep. Crago revealing the basic truth: the Freedom Caucus can identify problems but then votes against actually solving them.
The first letter honestly discloses that the author wrote his letter to the editor “with the help of ChatGPT”, apparently using the filter “folksy vitriol”. Whether the Cowboy State Daily will continue to run letters from AI bots is unknown. If so, we can dispense with civil public discourse and just let the robots fight it out.
ChatGPT listed the voting records of the Freedom Caucus members to 2023 House Joint Resolution 2, which was a no-brainer that you would have expected anyone who wants residential property tax relief to support. HJ2 fixes a quirk in the Wyoming constitution, which currently requires the state to tax commercial property (think Home Depot, WalMart) at the same rate as it taxes your house. Without HJ2, the state cannot give a tax break to residential homeowners without also giving the same tax break to out of state corporations that own commercial property in Wyoming. All of the Freedom Caucus members listed in the letter voted against HJ2.
ChatGPT erroneously listed HB174, homestead exemption, as a property tax bill. HB174 passed, but it has nothing to do with property tax. Rather, it protects up to $100k of equity in your home from being seized by non-mortgage creditors.
The real $100k property tax exemption bill, HB54, was sponsored by Speaker Albert Sommers. That bill would have saved the average homeowner approximately $650 per year in property tax by exempting the first $100,000 of value from assessment. ChatGPT failed to give him credit for that one.
Similarly, the Freedom Caucus has identified government spending as a problem, but has an impressive record of voting for massive, unnecessary spending. The Freedom Caucus voted for HB66, a reverse mask mandate bill containing an $847 million appropriation out of the state’s general fund (it failed).
The Freedom Caucus also voted to spend $105 million to compensate foreigners whose lands in Wyoming would have been forcibly sold under proposed HB116. This bill failed in part because it violates Wyoming’s constitution by prohibiting land sales to foreign nationals.
If the Freedom Caucus had succeeded with those two bills, the state would have spent an additional $952 million, nearly three times the amount out of the general fund spent by the supplemental budget.
The second letter, from an amateur podcaster, attacks Rep. Crago with a series of ad hominem attacks but does raise one issue worth discussing: if the Freedom Caucus only has 26 votes, how could it be an impediment to passing a property tax relief bill? The answer is that the Freedom Caucus teamed up with Democrats on the final day of Committee of the Whole and voted to adjourn, thus preventing consideration of Sen. Biteman’s SF136, Property tax relief – assessment rate reduction.
In Wyoming, we believe in not just identifying problems, but in actually solving them. Sommer’s homestead exemption bill is the simplest, most direct way to give immediate tax relief to residential property owners. Unless the Freedom Caucus blocks it from introduction during the 2024 budget session, which requires a two thirds vote for the introduction of bills, it should pass and Wyomingites will receive some of the property tax relief they need.
I am no Luddite, but I hope that we can continue to debate civilly person to person, rather than bot to bot.
Speaker Pro Tem Clark Stith represents House District 48 (Rock Springs)