State Rep. Bill Allemand, R-Midwest, wants members of the Joint Revenue Committee to understand how oppressive he believes Wyoming’s property tax structure has become, saying it’s violating people in heinous ways.
“The system we’ve got right now, we’re raping our people,” he told the committee as it met Monday.
Allemand’s comments came during a discussion on what it would take for Wyoming to adopt an acquisition value-based method of property taxation. Acquisition value assesses taxes based on the original purchase price of a piece of property, similar to how vehicles are taxed.
One of the core points delivered by consultants who performed a study on acquisition value property taxation for the state this summer is that it won’t be a simple undertaking and could require as many as three constitutional amendments to be enacted into law. It also would require legislative approval and the support of the voters for any constitutional amendment proposed.
Allemand said he’s still willing to do the work to provide relief to his constituents.
“They’re going up 30, 40, 50, 60, 70% — I’m willing to do the work to get this acquisition in and get our taxes down,” he said.
Property taxes went up an average of 28% statewide in 2023 and nearly 50% since 2021. A handful of counties like Sheridan, Park, Teton and Natrona saw the most substantial growth. In other parts of the state, tax growth remained consistent with historical norms.
Adopting acquisition value, the most aggressive solution of property tax relief that has been proposed in the Wyoming Legislature, is quickly becoming a popular option with hardline conservatives in Wyoming.
Legislation was passed earlier this year to hire a private firm to perform the $48,000 study on how the state could develop acquisition value taxation.
Some of the more conservative members of the committee said Monday they felt the study was biased against the proposal and didn’t properly evaluate the issue.
“I think we see how some of the opposition is going to fight,” said Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan, in opposition to the findings of the study. He criticized the fact that no non-governmental members of the public were interviewed for the study.
Former Casper state legislator Pat Sweeney disagreed, saying he didn’t find the study biased at all.
Enacting an acquisition value taxation system would likely require at least one constitutional amendment proposition to be approved by the voters. Sweeney estimated that the entire process would take about four years to complete.
What It Means
One of the most common reasons lawmakers have opposed acquisition value taxation is that it could result in a drastic cut to revenue for the state. Allemand and Sen. Troy McKeown, R-Gillette, said they believe the state needs to spend less money, which would make up for these potential losses.
Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, didn’t follow Allemand's impassioned plea to the committee. She believes there’s often a lack of understanding about where property tax revenue goes and asked Allemand if he knows the percentage of property tax revenue that is funneled into state government.
Allemand responded that 100% goes to governmental services in Wyoming such as building roads and public buildings and funding the state’s schools.
Wyoming has one of the lowest tax rates in the country and no income tax, a point many have pointed to in opposition to making substantial changes to the state’s property tax rates. But according to a Wyoming Taxpayers Association 2022 report, residents spend $2,062 per person on property taxes, a figure which ranks 11th highest nationally for that form of taxation.
Natrona County Commissioner Dallas Laird has in the past questioned local government’s role in managing property taxes and supports the idea of acquisition value taxation.
Laird told the committee the effects of inflation on property taxes has become an issue the state must deal with.
His voice cracking, Laird shared the story of an elderly couple coming to him with tears in their eyes about what they were facing.
“They were in pain, they suffered,” he said.
The committee plans to continue discussing acquisition value at its November meeting.
Property Tax Refunds
During the Revenue Committee’s meeting in June, there was a large turnout by the public who expressed frustration about the Legislature’s perceived lack of progress on finding solutions to elevated property taxes. The acquisition value study and another piece of legislation expanding the eligibility pool for the state’s property tax refund program were the only bills passed addressing property taxes.
Brenda Henson, director of the Wyoming Department of Revenue, told the committee Monday there was a massive leap in the amount of refund checks delivered and total money reimbursed compared to prior refund years.
From the 2022 property taxes, the department disbursed 8,813 checks for a total of $8.2 million in refunds. This was up from the 2021, which resulted in 3,085 checks for $1.8 million. The average size of refund increased from $601 to $937.
Reimbursement denials drastically decreased from 30% to 9%.
Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, told Cowboy State Daily theLegislature will have to consider adding more funding for the reimbursement program.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.