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Ballot initiative intended to cut property taxes in half awaits certification

 

By Jasmine Hall
Jackson Hole News&Guide
Via- Wyoming News Exchange

JACKSON — Brent Bien has high hopes for his ballot initiative that could cut Wyoming property taxes in half for homeowners. And he’s one step closer to getting it in front of voters to make it state law. 

Joined by co-applicants Cheryl Aguilar and Rich Weber, Bien turned in 644 petition booklets to the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office for certification Thursday.

“We’re anxious to hear the results here in a couple of months,” said Bien, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate who spearheaded the effort.

The three organizers have been working with more than 300 volunteers since October to get the support required by state law. 

Bien said tax relief is one of the most important issues in the state, and the initiative would exempt 50% of the assessed value for property used as a primary residence at least six months of the year indefinitely. The sole qualification besides being a primary home owner is living in the state for at least one year.

Only 29,730 signatures from registered voters are needed, representing 15% of voters who cast ballots in the preceding general election. Those signatures also must represent residents in at least two-thirds of Wyoming counties. 

Bien said his team collected 45,000 signatures.

The Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office now has 60 days to review and determine if the threshold number of valid signatures has been met. Chief Policy Officer and General Counsel Joe Rubino confirmed the petition books were handed over Thursday and said they would be processed in accordance with state law.

“If it achieves the necessary number of valid signatures, the Wyoming State Constitution and Wyoming State law states that it will be on the 2026 ballot,” Rubino said.

Bien missed the statutory deadline before the Wyoming Legislature’s budget session began this year to get on the 2024 general election ballot, but he is holding out. 

He protested the original deadline and the way state law has been interpreted. Bien told the Jackson Hole Daily that he will wait to see if Secretary of State Chuck Gray will fight to put it before voters in November.

“We really had 18 months to do it,” he said. “We knocked it out in about seven and a half. So, we’re really proud of that. We’re proud of the people.”

He praised volunteers for doing a phenomenal job despite “threats” from some state lawmakers who warned that a state income tax or other taxes would be needed if the initiative succeeds. Bien disagrees, and calls it more of a “big government” spending issue.



Other state and local critics of the initiative have expressed concern in recent months, arguing that losing property tax dollars would put essential services at risk. None of the property tax revenue goes to the state general fund; it largely ends up going to K-12 education and local and county governments.

“What we do know is that there are counties that may be able to weather these sorts of changes, whereas others are going to face significant shortfalls,” Wyoming County Commissioners Association Executive Director Jerimiah Rieman has warned. “No county commissioner is telling me that constituents are calling them and saying that the roads are too smooth, that the ambulance gets there too quickly, that fire resources are adequate.”

If passed into law by Wyoming citizens, the ballot initiative would come on top of four property tax bills passed during the last legislative session. 

However, Bien said, “The stuff that was passed was junk.”

“The half-baked effort that was passed only affects such a small number of people around this state,” he said, adding that the 4% cap for all homeowners wouldn’t bring down property tax bills.

Turning over the signatures for the property tax relief measure doesn’t mean Bien is done, though. He said his team has started another ballot initiative with the Secretary of State’s Office that is being edited. This time, organizers are going after E-Poll books and voting machines.

“The objective of this next one is to basically do all hand tabulation on ballots,” Bien said.

 

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