In 40 years of conservation policy work, and writing a book on the subject, I still do not have all the answers on how policy progress is made. However, I am sure about one thing. When the perfect becomes the enemy of the good, we all lose. Many times I have watched solid progress fail due to a lack of focus on common ground and compromise. Many other times I have attended signing ceremonies for great but imperfect legislation.
The town of Jackson/Teton County gridlock on how to present a 2019 specific purpose excise tax to the voters is an example of this. Without an agreement on how to present the vote — to have one vote up or down for all the projects or separate votes for each project — there will be no SPET vote this year. That would be a shameful outcome for our community that will cost the town and county millions in sales tax revenue. SPET provides a way for tourists to contribute to funding services they require while in Jackson Hole. Without it, residents subsidize those services or everyone goes without. Overall, these are well-considered projects that are badly needed by our community.
I understand the desire of some of our elected officials to simply have one vote on the whole package. I get this point of view. After all, we elected them to govern, so let’s let them govern. They have studied these issues in far more detail than any of us have.
Personally, I would prefer that we went one step further and had no SPET election. My first choice would be to vote to have the tax, provide the funds and let our town and county government allocate those funds to where they believe the funds are needed the most. Not micromanaging our elected officials is a superior way to govern. Let them do what we elected them to do. If we do not like how they do it, then throw them out.
On the SPET vote this approach is not political reality in the town of Jackson and Teton County. We have always voted for SPET projects individually, and most people oppose changing that practice. Listening to friends and reading the public comments in the News&Guide and to the elected officials, I am convinced that the vast majority of our community wants to vote for SPET projects individually again this year. We also elected our town councilors and county commissioners to listen to their constituents and to vote accordingly. If a couple of projects can logically be merged, OK. However, people want choice in the 2019 SPET vote.
I get this point of view, too. Too often today our votes do not count. Due to an outdated Electoral College, a Democrat’s vote in Wyoming and a Republican’s vote in California are irrelevant. Two of the last three presidents were elected by a minority of voters. Every election in America is by popular vote, except the most important one — for president. In many states, gerrymandered districts cheat voters from having their vote count.
People are frustrated by the dysfunction of the federal government and the shortsighted incompetence of Wyoming state government. With SPET we have control. Our votes make a difference we can see in our community and our lives.
This is a critical issue, one of the most critical issues our elected officials will face this summer. Town and county government leaders need to schedule a meeting and not leave the room until there is a resolution.
Let’s make the SPET process work and make the case to voters for these projects this year. Then let’s start a conversation about the range and level of public services that the town and county should provide and the best options for funding those services that shares the burden between residents and our tourist guests.