As part of our goal here at County 17 of informing voters for this year’s elections, in the lead-up to the primaries, we sent out unique questions for candidates in state, county, and city elections, to let you better know your candidates.
To avoid overwhelming people with information, we skipped races that were uncontested. After the primaries, challengers to the incumbent stepped forward in House districts 31 and 32. This week, we have been posting responses from the Republican incumbents and their independent challengers, and today we present the last of the eight questions we asked.
We also reached out to the candidates in District 40, but we did not receive responses from either candidate.
Previous answers can be found here:
The general election is Nov. 6.
Taxes are a contentious issue, and some people argue tax rates need to be lowered to attract businesses. Despite having some of the lowest tax rates in the country (see information below), Wyoming still has trouble attracting businesses, as well as residents to fill positions. Why do you think Wyoming is having this problem, and what is your prescription for attracting businesses and job seekers? What do we need to do to diversify our economy? (limit 750 words)
Wyoming is ranked No. 48 for “State-Local Tax Burdens per Capita & as a Percentage of Income, 1st for Overall Business Tax Climate (1 is best), is 1 of 7 states with no personal income tax, is 1 of 2 states that do not levy a corporate income or gross receipts tax, 44th for State & Local Sales Tax Rates (1 is highest), 33rd for Gas Tax (1 is highest), 46th for Property Taxes Paid as a Percentage of Owner-Occupied Housing Value (1 is highest), and 1 of 35 states with no estate tax (all according to information from the Tax Foundation)
Scott Clem (Republican-District 31)
Workforce numbers are a major issue when it comes to attracting businesses to Wyoming. I don’t think there is a magic bullet to fix this problem. You can’t attract big employers without workforce numbers, and you don’t have large workforce numbers without a sufficient number of private industry jobs. It’s a bit of a catch-22.
You fix this problem by adding one new small business, one job, one family at a time. Attracting and creating new business isn’t easy. It’s time-consuming, labor intensive and a grueling process. It’s what the good folks at Energy Capital Economic Development (ECED) help do. Gov’t can assist business creators and ECED by making sure we have the infrastructure, research, and educational opportunities available to feed private industry workforce needs.
I recently attended a conference in Gillette sponsored by the National Association of Counties, the National Association of Development Organizations, and the U.S. Economic Development Administration. It was entitled “Strengthening Economies in Wyoming: A Forum for Coal-Reliant Communities.” Many local, state and federal elected officials were in attendance. These include both Senators Enzi and Barrasso, as well as Governor Mead.
Why were all of these people at this conference? Because each understands that Wyoming we won’t have giant tree size solutions in 20 years if we don’t plant a small tree today. Each understands that our minerals industry has the potential to be more than what it is today (and that isn’t knocking our great industry). Each understands diversification begins with our legacy industries of agriculture, fossil fuels and tourism. Each understands that the by-product of burning fossil fuels for energy, CO2, is more than just a liability… it can be an asset. The private industry is cranked up about diversification. Gov’t can be there to aid in that process, not get in the way. It can be there to provide the infrastructure needed and be a resource for assistance, but not fund private industry to pick winners and losers.
Gov’t reform of rules, regulations, and red tape can help make businesses profitable. When businesses are profitable they can pay more in wages, expand, and/or add new jobs. Diversity will not happen overnight. There is no quick fix. My aim to make government work for the people, not against them; to make businesses profitable and marketable, not compete against them.
One final consideration has to do with Federal unappropriated public lands within Wyoming’s borders. Did you know that Wyoming can’t tax Wyoming lands and minerals under federal control to raise money for education, create jobs and build our economy? That’s 48% of our state and 67% of our minerals! Instead the federal gov’t gives us Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT), which is pennies on the dollar of what the state, counties, and businesses could be generating. Did you know that because the federal gov’t is broke that it has reneged on PILT payments in the past? In a time where Wyoming is pursuing economic diversification and looking for more revenue does allowing the federal gov’t to control us make sense? Shouldn’t Wyomingites be free to chart our own course, or are federal bureaucrats better decision makers about what goes on in Wyoming? Who do you want making decisions about Wyoming’s lands and economy: a federal bureaucrat in Washington DC, or local Wyomingites that you can see and know? I’m for keeping Wyoming public lands in Wyoming public hands.
Wyoming was admitted to the Union on “Equal Footing” to all existing States. Whereas the federal gov’t controls less than 5% of lands in all states east of Wyoming, it controls 48% of our lands and 67% of our minerals. Does this sound like equal footing for Wyoming? I believe that Wyomingites can make far better decisions about our lands and minerals than unelected bureaucrats in Washington D.C. I believe in retaining our public lands under state control and using them for multiple use. I believe our children deserve the same opportunity to fund education and build our economy the same as State’s east of Wyoming.
David Hardesty (Independent-District 31)
Low taxes is a great lure, unfortunately this bait alone has not been working. So we need to look deeper into the tackle box. Money magazine lists the following items as incentives to attract new business, new money and new professionals to an area as it ranked its 50 best places to live in the United States. We should take time to view what other communities are doing. Discussion in these other indicators is needed.
1. Economy- Based on local unemployment rate, historical job growth, historical job growth, projected job growth, and level of employment opportunities available. This has already been discussed and is well known in our state, we need to diversify our economy.
2. Cost of Living- Based on tax burden, insurance costs, commuting costs, medical spending, utility and home expenses. This is where our low tax burden helps Wyoming, however it is offset by high healthcare cost.
3. Diversity- Based on racial makeup and racial integration and economic diversification within a places’ population.
4. Education- Based on reading and math scores combined with high school graduation rates. This is one reason we need to keep education strong in our state.
5. Income- Based on historical median household income and projected household income. How can we as a state attract higher paying jobs?
6. Housing-Using a Housing affordability index how affordable is our housing and is it available in an area?
7.Crime- Based on property and violent crime and drug overdose rates. Wyoming property crime and violent crimes are well below the national average.
8. Amenities- Based on the number of doctors and hospitals, as well as number of leisure activities in the town and surrounding area, including bars, restaurant and museums, sports complexes and green spaces. Doctors and hospitals are few and far between in Wyoming, we have a load of activities as we are two hours from everything but the beach, we have places to eat and drink and places to explore our past, we have invested in sports complexes in Campbell County and there are many green spaces, especially in May and June.
9. Ease of Living- Based on commute times and weather and other factors. Well we can’t change the weather in Wyoming and based on your profession in Gillette commute times vary widely.
So a low tax burden is only 1 factor of 9 in attracting new businesses and professionals to our state.
Tim Hallinan (Republican-District 32)
See the previous question regarding economic diversity. Taxes are low but that provides a basic need of profitable business only. It is a necessary condition but is not sufficient to attract new entries in our economy alone. We must have a workforce that is able to staff the new business and it must be affordable. One of the downsides of our energy businesses is the high wages that they generate. New businesses cannot compete with those high wages. Thus it is hard to attract employees for these newcomers. As to the education of the workforce it does not match the new economy that is found in surrounding states such as Colorado. We are primarily a “blue collar” state and our economy matches that reality. I for one, am happy that we are a high wage county but it makes diversification more difficult.
One of the Endow ideas that I believe makes the most sense in changing our “blue collar” economy is the support for the introduction of Broadband technology. This could allow new types of business to operate here on an equal footing with businesses from around the country. It could allow new efficiency to a business, and this allows greater profit. Profit, as I said in question 7, is what can bring new business and diversity to our county and our state.
An additional need is an educated workforce knowledgeable about the new IT economy. This is aided by inclusion or augmentation of computer science in our education system from K-12 to the university.
Chad Trebby (Independent-District 32)
As long as there are taxes, there are people who will complain or justify why they are too high. I am not one of those people. I have lived and worked in other states and have seen much higher taxes with far less return to the people on their investment. I am appreciative of our states low tax rates and even more appreciative of the amenities we receive as a result of them. I am not in favor of raising taxes and do not see the tax structure as a factor limiting growth or economic development.
Wyoming has had trouble attracting businesses because for decades we have been viewed as a dog with just a few tricks, mineral extraction, agriculture and tourism. There are also specific circumstances in the state that have made recruiting businesses difficult. As the rest of the nation has advanced and taken advantage of growth in technological fields, Wyoming has remained focused (and therefore dependent) on our key industries. Part of this is a result of our failing to train a workforce in technical skills that would encourage the development of new industries. It becomes a classic ‘what comes first story’, do we need the skilled work force for the industry to come, or will we train the workforce when the industry gets here. Im my opinion, it will remain very difficult to bring new industry to the state without a training workforce for them to draw from.
It is also difficult for new industry to develop in the state because of the rural nature. The fact that the major municipalities are all separated by hundreds of miles, means that a business interested in setting up in Gillette only has Gillette to draw from for a skilled workforce. In contrast, in states like Utah or Colorado, a corporation could set up in any number of suburban cities and draw on a work force from the surrounding towns and city. Having a strong economy is also bitter sweet for a community. In the Wyoming communities where there is a strong economy, like Campbell County has experienced. The wages that have to be paid by private businesses to compete with the large industries makes it difficult for small businesses to compete. These are two realities that we must face and make considerations for as we move forward.
In order to be a more attractive location for businesses we have to set up our state to be a desirable location. In private business that means showing that establishing or moving a business in Wyoming is a profitable choice. As discussed we already have a favorable tax structure for businesses so we have to look for areas in need of improvement. We need to start with a well educated and trained workforce. That means we have to continue to properly fund our education systems (both K-12 and post secondary). We need to have the necessary infrastructure in place for companies to move their products and people in and out of the region. This means things like roadway, rail and air service for physical good and connectivity for digital goods.
Lastly, we need communities to continue to invest in themselves. We have to have communities that people are proud to live in and want to bring their families to. My family comes to visit us in Gillette a couple times a year. Every time they do, they comment on how obvious it is to them that we invest in ourselves. They are envious of the art along our streets, our amazing recreation facilities, how well kept our public areas are and all the resources that are available to us. If people don’t want to stay here once they come, we will never get out of the ruts that are so easy to dig ourselves into.