Billionaires flock to Jackson Hole both for its natural beauty and globally recognized tax haven status. In Wyoming there is no tax levied on either personal or business income. For heaven’s sake even sale taxes are low. Friends and neighbors that have been burdened by a beloved’s premature departure from this corporeal plane, listen up, there are no estate or inheritance taxes to be found anywhere near this alpine paradise.
In 2010, the United States implemented the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act requiring income to be reported from offshore while another US agency exempted domestically based businesses from being required to report their earnings.
All this chicanery, grift, and “all hat no cattle” racketeering in Wyoming has been made possible by taxes that had been levied on gas, oil and coal. Coal was hit with a 7% rate. Gas and oil comes in at 6%. The state’s residents because of the commodities tax have for one half of a century paid little to no taxes of any kind. I’m moving soon.
Wyoming has few people. Government budgets are small. State legislators haven’t had to raise taxes since 1969 when they put in place the first severance tax. Now that coal, oil, and gas futures are all tanking the grizzled anti-taxing advocates holed up at the capitol in Cheyenne have got their inner stubborn backs against the wall, “I ain’t raising tax on nothing and nobody,”
Last June to save money the state closed all its highway rest areas. Republican Gov. Mark Gordon said recently “the state might have to start abandoning small towns because there’s not enough money to maintain their sewers and streets.” Sundance, Wyoming is considering closing its entire police department. The unaffordable lawless celebrations, they call them Panama potluck’s, have been put off due to a pinch in the celebrants’ purses.
Political careers in Wyoming have been built on promises of never raising taxes. Campaign contributors’ number one priority is keeping taxes low. This is how a rigged system keeps winning, it is the rock rib Republican’s first and last plank, read my lips, say it with me, no new taxes, ever, none.
Placing a severance tax on wind or solar, literally taxing invisible forces in the cosmos, even that devil doesn’t pencil out. All services provided by the state are on the chopping block. Traffic light maintenance is over, fire protection is toast, University of Wyoming can’t be worth the money faculty are demanding. Unemployment insurance, disability, pensions, vacation pay, and health care all have to go.
Americans know better than to romanticize the ugly reality of rural hardship. Cyber commuting by Zoom meeting isn’t going to save rural Wyoming. The energy transition only makes matters that much more difficult. A decade ago, no forecasters had solar or wind power becoming the low-cost leader by 2021. And just like that coal, gas, and oil can’t compete.
There is a mad scramble for new tax revenues. Billionaire hobby ranchers in Teton County will have some tax dodging soul searching to do. Such notables as Walmart heiress Christy Walton, former Google executive Eric Schmidt, Grammy winner Kanye West, and former Vice President Dick Cheney make homes here in this intermountain enclave for the plumpest of the fat cats.
This is the downside to income inequality. With such a small state population the price of electing a state legislature beholden to their financial interests is quite affordable, a bargain really. New York, California, or Florida would require far larger expenditures, and the influence and outcome would be uncertain.
I’m all about the American West. I find hunting elk, treeing cougars, spending all day at the county rodeo, trout fishing by fly rod and whittling down a jigger of whiskey after packing into the furthest corner of the Big Horn Mountains outsized pleasures. Taking measure of your wilderness spunk, finding out how rugged your own individualism runs, how deep your self-reliance courses through your veins, this is a landscape where you may test your mettle. Don’t forget your bear spray.
As far as inflection points go 2021 is a Duesenberg, an unforgettable first sloppy kiss of beer brawling why did you hit on that hot honey moment. Knowing to your very core how foolish it would be to pledge no new taxes, and then once you are in office, your good character is forced to account when you work yourself into the corner you had fooled yourself into believing would never come. American exceptionalism and the flaw of denial are tested by the grain of the wood, strength of the glue and the noble ingenuity of a citizen wanting to build something that will last.
Scuffed up western boots, Navajo handcrafted silver and turquoise bolo tie, tweed coat pocket containing your guiding light, first principles, irrevocable set of self-evident truths, your civic bible, your copy of the Constitution of the United States of America. I’m talking about you bucko, this mountain of principle and character occupying a political seat in Cheyenne. You, my patriot, my loyalist, oath of office taking-hand on the bible-swearing to protect and defend the constitution from all enemies-foreign and domestic-are you ready to ask your patrons to reach into their wallets and to pay their fair share to help build a better America?
If you ain’t got the nerve, take off your spurs, turn in your badge, go back to where you’ve come from. Go on now, get! We are going to need a posse of stiffer willed leaders. There are truths laid bare at the intersection of a climate emergency, pandemic, and a festering economic inequality. Tax avoidance has wrongfooted our society. Our essential workers get paid crap wages. Too many can barely make rent, live in their car, even with a full-time job there are hardworking Americans unable to put food on the table. The tax haven known as Jackson Hole is a gilded cage of our nation’s wealthiest intent upon propping up a fundamentally unfair tax system, and it is the demise of coal that is going to be their undoing and at last usher in a new era of tax fairness, social equality, and a path to a more perfect union.