By Ryan Fitzmaurice
With bills to implement a statewide lodging tax and put in place an income tax for large corporations both dying in the Senate this week, RJ Kost stressed the need for the state to continue searching for ways to increase revenue.
House Bill 220, the National Retail Fairness Act, would have implemented a 7-percent income tax on corporations with more than 100 shareholders.
The bill died in the labor committee last week after the committee chairman, Bill Landen, held the bill back, stating he knew it did not have the votes.
Kost said the public needed to be better educated regarding the impacts of the bill.
“There is just too much opposition right now. In the future, it is necessary for us to look at it again but approach it with more information so everybody really does understand what it’s doing and how it affects people,” Kost said. “If people had a better understanding…they might have had a more favorable opinion. You are going to have lobbyists against it because your large corporations, like Walmart, are going to say, ‘No we don’t want that in,’ and I understand that as well.”
Conservative estimates said it could have produced roughly $45 million in new funding for the state’s schools, according to reporting by the Casper Star Tribune.
An effort to create a 5-percent lodging tax also died Monday in a Senate-wide 7-19 vote
If passed the bill would have generated an estimated 19.5 million annually for the tourism sector of Wyoming, while the remaining 20 percent would have gone into a special projects account, directed towards counties.
Kost was among the no votes, stating the majority of his constituents were against it.
“Especially our smaller, little hometown motels are going to be really stretched by it because to compete with the larger motels and all is already difficult,” Kost said. If they try to absorb (the new tax), they press down the amount of income they make, which makes it more difficult. If they raise their prices so they can match it that makes it very difficult as well. “
Both bills may have met defeat in this session, but Kost said with funds from energy production remaining flat, the state needs to find a new way to fund the government and its projects.
“The bottom line, at some point, is we’ve got to do something to change revenue. I know there’s a large proponent out there that says we’ve got to cut government but the problem we got to look at is if we look at the number of things have been cut down in the state for the past years, government has been cut down considerably. I think that we all appreciate good roads, we all appreciate the infrastructure in our cities and our municipalities, and that all comes from our revenue, and like it or not, that’s not cheap,” Kost said. “Somewhere down the road we have to look at what else can we do revenue-wise. I’m not an advocate of taxes, and I’m not saying we should have taxes, but I’m not sure what we can do to bring in that revenue.
“Natural resources are not something that’s automatically going to come back and take care of us.”
It wouldn’t surprise him if the legislature has to revisit those proposals again, he said.
“I think in the next couple of years, with next year being a budget session, I think we have to seriously look at what can we do, and would this be an avenue we want to consider again, where would that take us, how it would affect us,” Kost said. “We have to continually try to inform our public so they are comfortable with what we’re saying and where we’re going and they understand what we’re up against and what we need to do to make a difference for all of us in the state.”
Other bills voted on
The Senate overwhelmingly voted in favor of House Joint Resolution 3, which designates nine communities in Wyoming with Medal of Honor recipients residing in them as Medal of Honor communities. Greybull, final resting place of Donald J. Ruhl, is among those communities.
“It’s a neat recognition for cities who have Medal of Honor veterans in them,” Kost said.
House Bill 194 was also passed 19-9-1 in the Senate Monday. The bill, according to Kost, would force air ambulance companies, Medicaid and the state to come to the table to determine methods to lessen the financial burden on Wyomingites in need of life flight services.
The services are often not adequately covered by health insurers, Kost said.
“A lot of the costs have become the burden of the people instead of their insurances, and that’s become astronomical,” Kost said. “Are you going to say yes to 40-50K when you know your family member is going to die if you don’t do it? You’re not going to question it,” Kost said. “We need to see if we can’t get a handle on it; we need to see if we can put some limitations on it.”
Kost voted against House Bill 310, which died in the Senate Monday 8-21-1.
Kost said the majority of the feedback he received from his constituents on the bill, which would have given college students state funds to help pay for the first two years of college, were against it.
“Strong sentiment out there that not be the case, so I respected that and held the line on voting no on that,” Kost said. “I think we have a lot of opportunities for students to get that funding without saying they have to get it through the state; at this time, I’ve got to agree with them.”
House Bill 171, which removes hemp from the state’s controlled substance list, was passed 26-3 in the Senate Monday. The change would allow Wyoming farmers to grow the product.
“That is good,” Kost said. “That is going to give farmers some needed flexibility in what they might consider growing.”
The session ended Wednesday.