Here is my third review of the bills as they have been registered to date. For my earlier reviews, click here and here. Among the highlights below: HB153 and HB172.
HB126 - Revenue recalibration task force. This bill wants to create a task force to "recommend standards and options for developing a fair, viable and economically competitive state and local tax structure capable of generating sufficient revenues to meet the state's future, expected needs." Specifically, they are supposed to review the tax reform committee report from 19 years ago, analyze our state's current tax system and "identify and analyze all revenue options available to state and local governments".
I am sorry to say this, but the sponsors of this bill are trying to put one saddle on two horses. You cannot pursue an economically competitive tax structure and, at the same time, pursue a tax system that will "meet the state's future, expected needs". The "needs" are not defined in the bill, which de facto means that as the bill is written, it assumes that government spending remains intact. That, in turn, means continued funding for one of the largest governments in the country (click here for my list of articles explaining just how big government is in Wyoming).
Last time this task force was debated I suggested that the legislature appoint a Spending Recalibration Task Force instead, one that would recommend reforms to give Wyoming an economically competitively sized state and local government. This spending task force would generate reform ideas for Medicaid, school choice, infrastructure and criminal justice that, in their totality, would allow for a substantial downsizing of our large state and local government sector.
Once that task force has reported and its recommendations been put to work, it is time for a revenue task force to do its job. Then, it could focus entirely on recalibrating our tax system for a permanently smaller government - and thereby make our state a lot more competitive.
HB141 - Front license plate freedom. An insignificant bill from an economic viewpoint, but a fun one that I hope will pass. I would also like to see a bill removing speed limits on rural stretches of our interstates. If the Germans can do it, so can we (and if you don't like this idea, clearly you haven't driven 140mph on Autobahn...).
HB153 - Public reports: state spending and revenues. This is a transparency bill. It wants to "make available for public inspection on the Wyoming public finance and expenditure of funds website ... a copy of any request for bids or proposals by an agency for supplies or services or any contract or other agreement entered into by an agency for supplies or services". While this pertains to only a small slice of our government finances, it is nevertheless an important step forward in government transparency. Since there is inertia - even resistance - from our government on the transparency front, every step forward is worth celebrating.
Furthermore, this bill could make the contracting process more competitive, which will have longer-term consequences for state finances in general.
HB154 - Restriction on public benefits. What this bill asks for is so obvious that I am dismayed by the fact that it is even needed. Thumbs up to Representative Jennings et al for wanting to condition "eligibility for state or local public benefits on lawful presence in the United States" and for wanting to require "verification of lawful presence in the United States upon application for state or local public benefits".
The bill refers to 8.U.S.C. 1621 for definition of lawful presence. Since I am not a lawyer I will leave it to others to duke out whether or not this is sufficient; to be as certain as possible that the bill achieves what its sponsors intend, I would sharpen the language to "citizenship or lawful permanent residence". That would remove any ambiguity as to who is lawfully present in the country; please note that the word "permanent" refers only to green card holders and excludes people on time-limited work visas. Furthermore, there will be no risk that a reform to the federal statute unintentionally voids what this bill is trying to accomplish.
I would also make sure that the federal government cannot void this bill by simply withholding federal funds for Medicaid, SNAP, TANF and other welfare programs. Alternatively, the sponsors of this bill could start thinking about a bill that would reform said programs in such a way that we make them entirely in-state funded. I have a model for how to do this, in case anyone is interested (see the Charity Compact part of my 2012 book Ending the Welfare State).
HB160 - Protecting the integrity of girls and women. Not my area of expertise, just wanted to applaud Representative Connolly et al for sponsoring this bill. Well done!
HB167 - Severance tax on coal. It is nice, of course, to see a bill that wants to cut a tax, but I am a bit puzzled as to why the sponsors have chosen to put this bill forward now. After all, the overwhelming ambition of the legislative leadership is to raise taxes. Is this a way to open for a "compensatory" cut in severance taxes so as to facilitate tax hikes elsewhere? For starters, keep in mind that HB68 wants to raise property taxes by quite a bit.
HB172 - Wyoming Budget Stabilization Act. This is, as I understand it, Representative Gray's initiative. He introduced something similar last year. This is a good bill in many ways, with some downsides that need fixing. I will get back to it in a separate article; for now, thumbs up to Representative Gray for his continued interest in this issue.