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WYO Severance Taxes: More Study Needed?

August 3, 2009

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Wyoming needs to take a look at its bank account and figure out how much will be needed in the future. That's the advice from Equality State Policy Center researcher Sarah Gorin, amid the debate over whether or not Wyoming should raise mineral severance taxes. Alaska has close to $29 billion in mineral severance taxes in its permanent fund. Wyoming has far less, at $4 billion, but relies on these taxes for 20 percent of the state general fund. The state also relies on another 12 percent in interest from the savings account.

Gorin says the interest stream is unlikely to be able to sustain the state if mining production declines and tax revenues disappear.

"We've felt for a long that we're not saving enough against the future when these resources will be gone, or no longer will be marketable."

The Wyoming Mining Association has warned that any increase in severance taxes will mean jobs will go to other states as they move production out of Wyoming to states with lower taxes. A University of Wyoming study, paid for by the Wyoming Legislature, refutes that claim. It finds that a modest increase in severance taxes would not significantly affect jobs or production.

The national push to transition to less fossil fuel use also should be considered in the debate, Gorin adds.

"That's all the more reason why we should be looking at coal severance tax increases, so that we make the most of this resource while we've still got it."

Deb Courson, Public News Service - WY