District 16 race splits on property tax issue
Schloss argues everyone needs relief, while Jorgensen says give breaks to those in need.
By Noah Brenner, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
October 15, 2008
Candidates for House District 16 vary greatly in their views of what changes, if any, should be made to Wyoming’s residential property-tax system.
Republican challenger Joe Schloss of Jackson said he thinks the system should be completely overhauled and property-tax increases should be capped as they are in states like Nevada and California.
Incumbent Democrat Pete Jorgensen, also of Jackson, said drastically changing the property-tax system would be fiscally irresponsible but state programs that give relief to lower-income residents should be expanded to allow people to stay in their homes.
Schloss said revamping the property-tax system is his top priority because he hears more about that issue from his potential constituents than any other.
“It is probably the single most issue, until the financial collapse that everyone was talking, about in this county,” he said.
“The single issue that flooded my inbox with people saying that we’ve got to do something about this,” he said.
Jorgensen said he has heard concerns about property taxes from about four people, and instead people are more concerned about affordable health care and health insurance.
Schloss proposes implementing a cap on property-tax increases similar to California’s Proposition 13, which limits increases to 2 percent per year until the home is sold, at which time it is reassessed and the new owner starts paying taxes on that figure.
“I think we need to look at states like California and other states that have enacted similar laws,” Schloss said. “We either find one that is similar that will work for us or we create a hybrid.”
Such a fix may take time to shepherd through the Legislature and could require an amendment to the Wyoming Constitution, but he said it is the only avenue to meaningful tax relief.
Jorgensen said he supports the state’s five existing property-tax-relief programs, including one that offers a tax rebate to low-income residents and another that assesses taxes as a reverse mortgage on the estate.
“I don’t object to either of those because they are fiscally responsible,” he said.
“Perhaps we should adjust the qualifications, raise assets thresholds, etcetera, but we have the discretion to modify that, and in my mind that is reasonable.”
He also said he supports funding a homestead exemption that would exempt a certain amount of the value of a home from taxation.
Schloss said a homestead exemption is insufficient because property values, and thus taxes, are so high in Teton County that any relief would be miniscule. Current programs are onerous and often aimed at specific demographics, like the elderly or veterans, when the entire population is being squeezed by large property-tax increases, Schloss said.
Schloss argued that the state, which has previously projected a budget surplus for the upcoming year, can afford to reduce taxes because it is flush with cash.
“I believe that in [Jorgensen’s] title as state representative, he is supposed to be representing the people of Teton County and looking out for their best interest,” Schloss said. “Increasing taxes at a time when there is a surplus in the state is irresponsible.”
Jorgensen pointed out that the surplus is in mineral revenue going into the general fund, not property tax revenue, the majority of which goes to fund elementary and high-school education.
“If we reduce property taxes, we have to replace that money either from another tax or cut services,” he said. “I don’t think we will cut schools [funding], but it will come from somewhere. It could come from discretionary savings, but anyone who follows finance knows that in good times we should be saving.”
House District 16 includes much of Jackson and Teton Village. Jorgensen has represented the district for the last six years.