Friday, August 18, 2017

When Taxpayers Speak Up, Things Happen

Just back from a trip to Washington, DC. Meetings, a seminar, and more meetings. Learned lots of things that are relevant to us here in Wyoming. More on that later, though, because things are moving here in the Cowboy State. 

As a follow-up from Wednesday, Representative Marti Halverson declares:
The only tax tax I would consider raising is the wind energy tax.  Let's get some of those subsidies back.  Otherwise, no new taxes, no tax increases, no new fees, no fee increases.  No to a proposed sales tax on services.  No to a proposed tax on businesses.
Previously, Representatives Gray and Salazar have made clear their opposition to higher taxes.
On August 16, in a discussion on my Facebook page, Karl Allred mentioned that
the Wyoming State Republican Party has made it's position clear. We passed a resolution AGAINST the Gross Receipts Tax. We also passed a resolution against ANY tax, license, or fees increase and instead said we need to cut the budget. This is the official position of the Republican Party period. So if your representatives vote to increase tax they are doing it 100% in opposition to the Republican Party and should be held accountable the next time they try to run as a Republican.
I also hear about changes at the local level. In Campbell County, for example, there is growing resistance to a proposal of a quarter-percent sales tax increase. Quite possibly, what was originally a solid majority for the increase could turn into a majority against it. 

We already know that Senator Petersen wants spending cuts before tax increases. 

Senate President Bebout has made clear that he thinks we have a spending problem, not a revenue problem, yet he still said, at the Revenue Committee meeting in Thermopolis, that he thought the legislature could make the Gross Receipts Tax work. Despite his interest in the GRT - or, as it is now called, the Gross Product Tax - the Senate President's position is welcome. It opens for a dialogue on spending cuts before there is even talk about taxes.

In other words, things are moving in the right direction. Not fast, not solidly, but it is enough to show two things:

1. Ignore the legislative glass ceiling 

There is this idea in public policy that in order to talk to legislators, you have to tell them what they want to hear. You can only bring up ideas that could "realistically" make headway in the legislature. 

The problem with this attitude is that it is not you, me or any other taxpayer who defines what is "realistic". That is the privilege of the incumbent legislator, and he or she will define what is "realistic" based entirely on what they want and do not want the legislature to do. If they want more tax revenue, and if they do not want educational freedom, then they are going to define tax hikes as realistic and educational freedom as unrealistic. 

If we the taxpayers want it the other way around, then we are left out to dry.

Unless, of course, we stop telling the legislators what they want to hear, and start telling them what they need to hear instead. That is exactly what this blog is all about, and - without being overly confident - I will say that it is working. 

2. Grassroots, grassroots, grassroots

We live in a constitutional republic, the only one of its kind in the world. Despite its many imperfections, it is still the best place in the world to be. One of the many reasons for that is the direct link between, on the one hand, voters and taxpayers and, on the other hand, those we elect to represent us. 

In traditional parliamentary systems, political parties play a bigger role than they do here. Sometimes, the parties take the role of a third layer, in between voters and their elected officials. In some countries with parliaments you cannot vote for individual candidates, but you have to cast a "party ballot". You vote for a party, and the party appoints the people who will represent you. 

We do not have that system. We have a system where, despite the influence of the Republican and Democrat parties, individual representatives still have ties directly to their constituents. We also have an open system where anyone can run; you do not need to ask for party approval before getting on the ballot. 

Because of our open system, it is also comparatively easy to open a channel of information from grassroots to elected officials. When grassroots have the right kind of information and analysis at hand, and when they are passionate enough about an issue, they can take their case to their elected officials and hold them directly accountable. The more people who do so, the more the elected officials feel the need to accommodate to public opinion. 

In fairness, many of them do not even need that kind of pressure to change their minds. Our election system, with its open candidate field and direct appointment of individuals, offers opportunities for grassroots to upset a political status quo. The Tea Party movement from 2009 and 2010 did that; the Trump Party movement of 2016 did something similar - and it is likely going to have repercussions in the 2018 elections.

The combination of educated voters and grassroots activity is a powerful force in politics. It is making a difference here in Wyoming. It remains to be seen just how much of a difference we are talking about; the welfare-statist camp is strong, and the lobby to raise taxes is persistent. With all that said, as far as taxes go, the outcome of the 2018 legislative session is open. What the tax hikers thought was essentially a slam-dunk case a year ago, is now going to be a fight down to the last vote count. 

With all that said, there is one more point to this that we cannot ignore. It is one thing to say no to tax increases - we have to - but if we cannot offer an economically sound alternative, the no-to-taxes argument is going to eventually evaporate in the face of the budget crisis. This is why it is so important that we combine the no to taxes with a good, solid plan to put Wyoming back on a path to prosperity again

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