Dear Friends and Adversaries (yes, I know you read this blog...),
It has been a good couple of days so far this week. The Joint Revenue Committee, under the stewardship of Representative Madden, is on the defensive. They did not dare confront us voters and taxpayers in their meeting this week. Instead, they postponed as much as they could of their agenda to their meeting December 4-5, also here in Cheyenne.
But putting the tax hikers in the Revenue Committee on the defense is not our only achievement. The efforts to raise the local sales tax in Campbell County by 0.25 percent, failed in Tuesday's vote. This victory is particularly important, for two reasons. The first is that the proponents of that tax hike used every conceivable tactic in the playbook - honest and dirty - to entice and intimidate voters into supporting the tax hike. (Local grassroots in Campbell County can testify to the details.)
The second reason why this defeat of a small tax hike is so important, is that it shows voters understand how the death-by-a-thousand-blows theory applies to tax policy. There is no doubt that many people in Campbell County could probably afford an isolated 0.25-percent tax hike, but that was not the context in which this vote took place. This coming session the state legislature will consider bill that will raise taxes, or create a need for higher taxes, to a total value of up to $400 million. That is a considerable addition of tax burden on the shoulders of families and businesses all across the state.
Voters in Campbell County realized that they had a chance, this past Tuesday, to at least alleviate that burden, and to send a message to whomever they could that their paychecks are not endless.
Voters also rejected a bill to raise property taxes in Laramie County to pay for projects at the LCCC. For those who lament this vote, there are other ways for you to support your local community college, here in Laramie County as well as in Campbell County. In both cases, everyone who wants to can make a donation to the colleges. It is even tax deductible.
The message is clear in all these cases: taxpayers vote, and when taxpayers suffer while watching how government refuses to adjust itself to what taxpayers can afford, then taxpayers vote against higher taxes. It is plain and simple.
From hereon, though, we need to do even more. We need to keep telling our elected officials how we feel about their efforts to raise taxes - and we need to continue to do so until every last tax-hike bill is defeated. At the same time, we also need to expand the conversation about our alternatives to higher taxes. Here are some ideas - repeated from yesterday's blog article - that could be part of a platform for anyone and everyone interested in bringing real government reform to Wyoming:
-Real school choice in K-12 education, which would cut the cost of education by up to 50 percent, maintain or improve quality and create thousands of new private-sector jobs. There are many ways to design school choice - or parent choice, or educational freedom, whichever term we want to apply - and the exact, technical solution is less important. What really matters is that we find and implement a solution that gives the most freedom to parents to choose the right K-12 education for their children. If we do that, the free market will secure substantial cost cuts for taxpayers without the sacrifice of educational quality.
-Medicaid vouchers, allowing enrollees to buy insurance across state lines, while significantly reducing costs and expanding access to health care. The idea here is to get the federal government out of our Medicaid program, so that we, the people of Wyoming, can design it as we see fit based on our needs and preferences. When Medicaid enrollees can purchase insurance across state lines, and there is an economic incentive in it for them, they will find the plan that gives them the best access to health care at the lowest cost. In the end, this will substantially benefit every party involved: health care options will improve for enrollees; health care providers will get more money for treating Medicaid patients; and taxpayers will see a drop in their cost for financing the program.
-Criminal justice reform concentrating resources to violent and hardened criminals, while giving non-violent offenders a path back to legal life. This is not an area I normally write about, but as a general observation it is unfair to give non-violent, first-time drug offenders the same treatment as we would a first-time violent offender. Drug users at the early stage in their "career" typically only hurt themselves; it is when they have been abusing drugs for a while that they start behaving in a way that is destructive for their community. It therefore makes sense to expand rehabilitation offerings, especially if those come from the private sector. This also frees up resources to, again, concentrate our criminal justice machinery to violent and chronic offenders.
-Infrastructure reform, with a toll on I-80 and tax money concentrated to neglected highways. Yes, I know this is not a popular idea with everyone, and last time I pitched it on radio, an independent truck driver called in and explained how it could hurt his business. I respect that, and I do not want to see a road toll solution that puts small businesses at a disadvantage compared to bigger competitors. At the same time, we simply must reform our state's structurally overspending government, and part of that reform effort is a toll on I-80 that: a) makes the maintenance of the highway independent of the state budget, and b) does so without putting small businesses at a relative disadvantage. If we can find that solution - and I am positive we can - then a toll is the way to go.
-Welfare reform that brings in private charities and private donations while emphasizing the dignity of self reliance; I have developed this idea in two steps, both of which I am planning on returning to in the near future.
-The TIER government renovation project:
a) Transparency - open all books on government spending and all their bank accounts; this will give us a complete picture of government employee compensation, as well as help us find cash hidden in government-owned bank accounts; some say it is a substantial amount;
b) Information - We need new routines for how government agencies report on their operations, so that people can continuously, and in detail, see how their tax money is being used;
c) Efficiency - a recent report suggested our state government could reduce its operating costs by up to $200 million; imagine similar efficiency gains in local governments, and we are closing in on $800 million in savings, just from enhancing efficiency;
d) Regulations - A good rule of thumb is that regulations cost businesses 50 cents for every dollar they pay in taxes; if we could deregulate our state's economy across the board, orderly but thoroughly, we could look forward to several billions of dollars in new private-sector business activity.
These are some ideas. I know there are others out there with more ideas, both for the state government and for local governments. Let us continue, and expand, the conversation. Stopping tax hikes is necessary, but it is only a first step; to permanently remove the need for higher taxes - and to permanently cut the taxes we have - we need substantial, structural reforms to our government. The list above is a start.