Discussion on the Rated Bills, 2004 Budget Session


In the typical liberty index created by other individuals and organizations, there is usually a discussion of each bill selected for rating – why it was chosen, how it affected liberty, how the bill fared in the legislative process. The large number of bills selected in the Wyoming Liberty Index makes that approach untenable (at least until further notice).


The next best thing is to discuss the general trends seen in the session, and how they affected liberty in a more general sense. This will help make sense of the way each particular bill was rated. To see the actual rating of each bill and a one or two-line comment why, open the spreadsheet and find the bill rating cells, observing the comments in each.


This may be reworked in later sessions as the process becomes more automated.



General trends seen in the session


Tax cuts and tax hikes

There were several bills having to do with tax cuts, for example SF10 being a $200 rebate to every citizen whether he paid taxes or not, HB6 repealing the excise tax on commercial transport of coal, HB44 a sales tax exception for manufacturing equipment, HB175 hiking the sales tax generally but removing it from food, HB179 simply removing the sales tax on food.


Some of these bills can be very hard to rate. Some of my general criteria for taxes are these:

1)      Broad-based taxes should be as broad as possible, with as few exceptions as possible, as flat as possible and as low as possible.

2)      Specific taxes should be treated as user fees, and the funds collected from them dedicated to the specific purpose, not thrown in the general fund. Specific taxes are preferable to broad-based taxes, esp. if they are somewhat avoidable (e.g. gas tax, by using an economical car).

3)      Exceptions to taxes are typically the work of small interest groups indulging in “rent-seeking” behavior and should usually be opposed, since an exception for them means everyone else without an exception must be taxed more to compensate.

4)      We must discourage the formation of segments of the populace who do not pay any taxes, as they tend to start voting for more government services because they are without the discipline induced by having to pay for them. A sure prescription for big government.

5)      Whenever there is a choice between taxing at the state level and taxing at the county or municipal level, the latter is to be preferred as it allows each community to tailor the tax burden it wants to bear, and citizens may move to the community which best fits them in this respect, if they desire.


HB175 violated item 1 and perhaps 4 above, so it was easy to see why I rated it negative (it was also not revenue neutral, generating far more income for the state). HB179 also violated 1 and 4, but was a much more difficult call because it actually reduced state revenue substantially. Much preferable to creating an exception for food would be to simply lower the state tax rate, from 4% to 3.5% for example. I did not rate HB179 as bad as HB175; I have decided the plusses balance the negatives so have rated it zero.


HB6 repealing the excise tax on commercial transport of coal, first appears to violate criterion 3 above. However the mineral extraction industry bears such a large portion of the tax burden in the state (having been singled out for special treatment) that they are to be excused for wanting to reduce part of it. In the same sense, if cigarette smokers got a bill in to reduce their tobacco tax to the level of the general sales tax, it would also be excusable. This is why the word “usually” is in criterion 3. People are to be excused for wanting to escape having been singled out for excess taxation. Of course the mineral extraction industry must be treated as a special case to generate funds to rectify any damage they cause, but the level of taxation seems much higher than that (the money goes into the general fund if I’m not mistaken).


The above gives a hint of the difficulty in rating some of these bills.


Tax hikes are usually much easier to deal with. For example, HB199 proposed to add a municipal sales tax similar to the county one. While this at first glance conforms to criterion #5, in fact it is an addition of a tax rather than the replacement of a state or county level tax with a municipal one, and this makes it clearly harmful to liberty. Taxes, especially at the state level, are far too high especially for a state like Wyoming which is in good fiscal order compared to many states.


Fiscal aid to cities

The state is “rolling in cash” but apparently there is some distress (real or imagined) at the municipal level. Thus there were several attempts to funnel money down to that level.


Most of these attempts were in the form of pork-barrel projects using the Wyoming Business Council. While the sentiment can be understood, it is a bad idea to replicate the corruption and influence peddling seen in the US Congress at the state level, and there is no good reason for people in one community to be paying for projects in another. The correct way to get money to the cities is a tax cut at the state level, in conjunction with increased authority at the municipal level to raise taxes if needed (but not the latter in isolation, as proposed in HB199).


The Wyoming Business Council should be eliminated, or sunsetted as the original enabling legislation specified. Such economic development offices are always fonts of corruption, and a too-cozy relationship between government and business.


The medical issue

Numerous bills took on the medical insurance problem, or attempted to. Most were either counterproductive (increasing regulation of insurance companies for example) or harmful to liberty for some other reason (welfare for doctors, for example). Apparently it is not even a given that there is a medical crisis in Wyoming. This is one subject where it is much too easy to do too much too fast. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Many problems boil down to government distortions of the market, so the correct answer (addressed in none of these bills that I recall) is for government to withdraw and let the free market handle the problems.



Bills of note


HB145 attempted to extend compulsory education from age 16 to 18. HB160 was one of several attempts to slip in funding for full-day kindergarten, along with a study of compulsory schooling for kindergarten kids. One can hardly imagine bills more harmful to liberty - “compulsory” says it all. Small kids should be with their mothers; early school is harmful to them. Some day we will give up on this mediocre school system we borrowed from socialist Prussia in the 19th century (forced on Wyoming by the federal government), and get back to a truly American (and liberty-supporting) one. The reader is directed to Alliance for the Separation of School & State for background material on the subject.


SF91 appears to be an attempt by the cosmetology business to create a state-run cosmetology cartel, stifling competition; a classic example of government doing the bidding of business interests. These sorts of regulations need to be all thrown in the fascist trash bin.


SF64 allows individuals to expunge misdemeanor records, a way of getting around the thoroughly unconstitutional federal Lautenberg gun ban . Good show, Wyoming legislature!


HJ3 would amend the Wyoming constitution, allowing local governments to get into “economic development”. A great idea if you love corruption, influence-peddling, high taxes, slush funds, boondoggles and a good trashing of the free market. The state should get out of this business, and counties and cities should stay out of it.


HJ5, HJ6 and HB127 attempted to opt out of the unconstitutional federal “No Child Left Behind” act.


SF55, the “no pee on highways” act shows the absurd is alive and well in Cheyenne.