Sales tax expansion, real estate transfer tax bills fail in committee


JACKSON — The House Revenue Committee was again disinterested in new taxes last week as it voted down a real estate transfer tax and an expansion of the sales tax from goods to services.

Teton County legislators supported the real estate tax. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort lobbied against the sales tax expansion.

Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Albany, was the lead sponsor on the sales tax bill. Pointing to a report on Wyoming’s estimated “tax capacity” — the ability to increase taxes while remaining competitive business-wise — she argued that Wyoming has plenty of “capacity.”

“We have a reputation for being business friendly — no two ways about it. Our taxes are part of that,” Connolly said. “But what these studies indicate over and over and over again is that we can increase our taxes and still remain competitive. We have that capacity.”

Critics disagreed, worried that expanding the sales tax would burden small businesses and make Wyoming less competitive compared to states as far away as Florida. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort piled on, critiquing a proposal to tax recreation.

“There’s a lot of competition in ski areas,” resort lobbyist Bob Jensen told the committee. “There’s a big reason to try and keep those recreation opportunities competitive.”

The vote against the sales tax expansion was 7-2.

Rep. Andy Schwartz, D-Teton, sponsored the real estate transfer tax. But it was clear Thursday morning that he saw the writing on the wall for the latest version of a bill he has proposed multiple times.

“I’m aware that there is opposition from Realtors statewide. Some of the Realtors in my community have opposition to this,” he said. “But I know for a fact that my board of county commissioners strongly supports this bill, and the town council supports this bill and most of my constituents support this bill because they see this as an opportunity to address pressing needs we have in our community that we currently don’t have the funding to address.”

The bill would have allowed counties to levy a 1-percent tax on real estate sales over $1 million. It would also have required voters to sign off on the tax, and would have made the government specify how, exactly, the money would be spent.

The Teton County legislators who advocated for the measure said it was a way to generate and earmark funds to address Jackson Hole’s housing crisis, and that taxing real estate sales over $1 million would not drive up home prices for middle class homebuyers.

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Natrona, didn’t buy that argument.

“What you’re doing is you’re totally disincentivizing having a vibrant real estate market,” he said.

But Rep. Mike Yin, D-Teton, pushed back on that. He said a real estate transfer tax wouldn’t keep people from buying homes, arguing it was necessary to offset the impact of “multi-million dollar homes” in Jackson Hole.

The bill would have “some of that resource go back to the community to help mitigate the effects on our communities, when prices become so high,” Yin argued.

The committee voted 5-4 against the measure.

Yin and Rep. Jim Roscoe, an independent who represents part of Teton, Sublette and Lincoln counties, voted for both bills.

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