As Teton County commissioners consider whether to add a seventh cent of sales tax to this fall’s ballot, community members should carefully weigh its merits, and ultimately warm to the concept.
In addition to the 4 cents of sales tax Wyoming levies, Teton County charges 1 general penny, and the 1-cent specific purpose excise tax makes a total of 6 cents on every dollar of taxable sales.
Operating a high-volume resort destination with a primary funding source of 6% sales tax is a task electeds have long struggled to accomplish.
This level of funding, the majority paid by visitors, helps us stay afloat, but it’s not enough to get ahead on significant challenges like important infrastructure, a safe courthouse and modern county jail, workforce housing and efficient transportation. Government must run lean, but these pages have carried stories about essential services at risk due to the inability to find staff who can afford to live and work here.
True, sales tax is regressive: The lowest-earning residents pay a larger percentage of tax as it relates to personal income. In Teton County, with a highest per capita income in the country, we regularly consider pursuing other more equitable options.
Yet the Wyoming Legislature regularly shoots down new revenue ideas like a real estate transfer tax or an empty home tax. That leaves local elected officials to rely on sales tax as the remaining tool to meet community needs.
At least in Teton County visitors pay an estimated 60% of the tax burden, but that leaves 40% to locals, who already carry some of the highest costs of living in the region. And the working class continues to struggle in making ends meet, working second and third jobs and commuting hundreds of miles each week to work.
The impact of a single penny more of sales tax to valley residents is small but necessary. Thankfully groceries are not taxed in Wyoming, although prepared foods and a majority of regular purchases like diapers, gas and clothing are taxable sales.
A town that fires on all cylinders, with enough fuel in the tank for emergencies, is more important than any “no new taxes” mind-set. Tax opponents will argue that government only grows with more revenue, but the reality is, our visitor, seasonal and permanent populations are increasing. Let’s use this obvious revenue tool to make progress as a community.
If commissioners vote to place the 1-cent general sales tax on the ballot, they must commit to use a portion of that funding to hire vital employees, including a competitively compensated transportation director to implement the Integrated Transportation Plan.
Put the 7th cent on the ballot; let the voters decide.
The Town of Jackson already voted 5-0 to put the 7th cent on the ballot. Now it's up to the county.
This article has been updated to include the town's vote. — Eds.