Taxation without representation, right here in Wyoming. Do Wyoming legislators believe it is right to pass laws that permit one group of voters to force another group of voters to pay for services the first group wants?
While we can’t know for sure what legislators believe, we can see how they vote. Sometimes, how they vote is a real head scratcher, because it implies a problem with principles.
During the 2013 Wyoming legislative session, legislators passed one bill, SF 99, a bill on water and sewer districts, which gave landowners the ability to vote on whether or not to form a water and sewer district. So far, so good.
Then legislators passed another bill, SF 19, a bill on special hospital districts, which did exactly the opposite. It took away landowners’ option to vote on whether or not to form a special hospital district.
Why is it important for landowners to have the right to vote on the formation of special districts? So they have a say in whether or not their tax burden will increase.Taking away this right has serious implications because the right to vote is a consequence, not a cause, of a free social system. If the legislature can give the vote and take it away from landowners in different parts of the state at the same time, there is no effective limit on legislation.
So just what is a special district, and how did legislators find their principles twisted up like pretzels?
A special district is an additional level of government that provides services, ranging from hospitals to water and sewer, to cemeteries, that local governments don’t provide. Think of a special district as an extra government that may cross local government boundaries, and may have the power to tax.
Before SF 19 passed, 25 percent of the landowners holding 25 percent of the assessed value in an area had to agree to set up a special hospital district because they are the people who pay the bulk of the property taxes and would be stuck with the tab for higher district spending. Now, everyone in an area will vote on whether to set up a special hospital district, whether they will incur any additional burden or not.
What drove this tax grab?
The Hot Springs County Memorial Hospital is a not-for-profit medical center in Thermopolis. Most of its funding comes from the services it provides, and it gets some of its funding from the county’s mill levy. With property and severance tax revenues falling, the county looked for a revenue replacement — and it found one.
County commissioners and hospital trustees lobbied Sen. Gerald Geis to sponsor SF 19, which would take away local landowner’s ability to vote on the formation of special hospital districts, and allow voters to raise the tax burden on landowners.
But here’s an option to pretzel principles.
Instead of expropriating money from one group of taxpayers to fund a government-run facility that can’t make ends meet, perhaps legislators should hand the reins over to someone who can. Hospital privatization in Wyoming has already brought better service at a lower cost.
But Hot Springs hospital board member Margaret Stansil said, in a Dec. 6, 2012, Thermopolis Independent Record interview, that if privatized, “the hospital would no longer be able to offer charity care to people.”
According to that hospital’s IRS form 990, for the year ending June 30, 2011, revenue totaled $14.3 million, and charity care totaled $172,557, or 1.2 percent of total revenue.
The Lander Regional Hospital was privatized in the early 1980s, and has been run by Lifepoint Hospitals since 2000. According to Sen. Cale Case (R-Fremont) “it doesn’t seem to have any problems.” Lifepoint Hospital’s 2011 Annual Report shows that its total U.S. revenue was $3 billion, and it provided $89.4 million in charity care, or three percent of their total revenue.
When government can’t solve a problem, it sells the idea to voters that it can make everything right by expropriating somebody else’s private property. Government raises taxes as if no other option existed but, as we’ve seen, hospital services can be better provided by the private sector.
It is time to look for alternative management at the Hot Springs Memorial Hospital and stick with fundamental principles.