Ricketts: The fight for Wyoming's economy


Wyoming is in a hard place. We face an economic disaster due to the reduction of the state’s tax revenue as a result of decreased coal and oil extraction. National Public Radio recently ran a story focused on Pinedale, and it made me think of Jeffrey City, east of Lander, a city we have probably forgotten.

In the late 1950s, Jeffrey City began growing as a uranium mine town, and in the late 1970s, it had a population of about 4,500. The mine started closing in the early 1980s, and it’s reported that today Jeffrey City has fewer than 30 inhabitants. The reduction in mining revenue and related taxes turned Jeffrey City into a ghost town.

Without the tax revenues that coal and oil extraction used to generate, our government agencies are now running a severe deficit. An article by Michael Madden in WyoFile.com reports:

“The Wyoming Taxpayers Association, government agencies and other organizations suggest that an average Wyoming household receives about $27,000 in services each year but only pays about $3,000 to $3,500 in primarily property and sales and use taxes...”

This means that each new household relocating to Wyoming and working from home for an out-of-state employer on average costs the state at least $23,500 more in services than it contributes. Some households receive annual services costing far more than this. For example, each public-school student from these new households costs about $17,000 alone.

In response to budget shortfalls, it appears that two things are going to happen.

(1.) The state will reduce the budget, probably to the point that it is going to hurt. We’re not going to like it, but we need to work with it.

(2.) Taxes are going to have to be increased. Again, we’re not going to like it, but it appears to be necessary.

This loss of coal and oil tax revenue will result in less commercial activity, businesses closing, jobs lost, real estate values lowered and other economic hardships. We are clearly on the defensive.

It’s a hard place in which to find ourselves, and everyone will experience the negative effects.

It seems to me that we should fight back and hopefully create enough commercial activity and jobs to offset what we are going to lose. That’s not going to be easy, but a natural place for us to start is the tourist industry. People come to Wyoming for the beauty of our mountains and our abundant wildlife. It appears that preserving and improving these natural benefits will be in our best interest.

We are successful with what we have, as evidenced by the fact that all our tourist facilities are full. We must create additional destinations and activities. Perhaps we need to think of ourselves as “The Hospitality State” and try to attract tourists from the other 49 states, including our neighbors that lack some of the natural advantages that we enjoy.

If we don’t do something to mitigate the disaster we face, we may be in for a financial freefall that we can’t stop. We must muster our economic wherewithal so our community can prosper again for years to come.

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