President Joe Biden’s moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on public lands is a bad idea and certainly cause for concern for Wyoming and Johnson County. But to hear Wyoming’s politicians describe the pause, it will be the downfall of our children’s education.
We do not favor the moratorium, especially since Wyoming, with 29 million federally owned acres, will be disproportionately affected. But make no mistake, elected officials claims that the moratorium is the cause of our state’s education funding woes are disingenuous. Prior to this executive order, the state had five producing oil rigs and one producing gas rig in December 2020. A year ago, there were 21 oils rigs and six gas rigs.
Market conditions, not regulations or restrictions, have decimated coal and oil markets. And the future does not look great for fossil fuels.
The real threat to education, and indeed the financial health of the state and our city and county, is not this moratorium.
The real threat to Wyoming is consistent and persistent aversion to creating more and new revenue streams.
So, we can continue to keep our heads buried in the sand, and wait hopefully for another boom, a boom that likely will not happen. Or we can plan for the future.
The days of relying on King Coal and oil and gas to pay all the bills are likely gone forever. Wyoming’s future entails either draconian cuts to state, county, city and education spending, or a commitment from citizens’ to start paying our fair share in taxes for the services we all rely on.
Under the present tax structure, economic diversification will only exacerbate the problem as Wyomingites receive more in services than they pay for in taxes.
According to the Wyoming Taxpayers Association, in 2016 the average household paid $3,000 in taxes and received $30,000 in services.
More economic development means more jobs and more population which translates to a greater budget deficit based on the present model of taxation.
The Johnson County School District Board of Trustees will meet this week to discuss how to address the first round of budget cuts. This will be the first of many such meetings to discuss ever-diminishing budgets unless the Legislature makes wholesale changes to the tax code. And these conversations will not solely occur in the schools. The city, county and state will also need to make significant cuts just to balance the budgets this year.
We are at a crossroads. We want low taxes. But we also want services. What services will we be able to do without?
Presently, the state would need to eliminate every single state job in order to balance the budget. That’s not a viable solution.
But there are tried and true solutions at hand. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. Other energy-producing states have already made the change. West Virginia and Texas have greatly diversified their state’s revenue streams so declines in energy production do not decimate government services.
Wyoming has enjoyed the lowest tax burden of any state in the union. And in the process we have become a welfare state, allowing others to pay for the services we all utilize. It’s time to get off “the welfare” and start paying our fair share. If we succeed in diversifying our tax system, a bright future is possible. If not, we will all need to learn to survive with a lot fewer government services and a substandard education system.