Residents here are particularly concerned about cuts in K-12 education funding and increases in personal taxes when it comes to solving Wyoming’s budget crisis, according to a new survey from the University of Wyoming.
Robert Godby, professor of economics at the University of Wyoming, and Mark Peterson, professor of marketing, presented the survey results to the legislature’s education committee on Friday.
Although Wyoming’s sales prospects are measurably better in the early days of the pandemic than it was last spring, the state is still facing a multi-million dollar public education deficit. The governor has already made a number of significant budget cuts, but a revenue gap remains. Add to this an unsustainable revenue model that is heavily reliant on energy, and Wyoming faces tough choices.
How much of Wyoming’s savings account or Rainy Day Fund should be spent to balance the state budget? Should property, income or sales taxes be increased to generate more revenue? Or should government agencies have leaner budgets? What about cities?
This is just a selection of the big questions that the research couple wanted to answer. The survey results provide data on the concerns and preferences of the Wyoming public in solving this tax challenge.
“People are most concerned about K-12 funding, but personal tax cuts follow in their order of preference,” Godby told the Star-Tribune.
The survey results showed that there were fewer concerns about cuts in government budgets or cuts in funding for cities and towns. Respondents weren’t as concerned about withdrawing money from Wyoming’s savings account to weather tough economic conditions, either, the survey found.
“(The budget cuts) will affect everyone in the state,” Godby said. “What is the unique Wyoming solution for this? Because there is more than one way to skin a cat and more than one way to balance a budget. “
The survey used marketing and product development techniques to present a range of options or alternatives for solving the budget crisis. Participants then had to weigh their preferred steps, but couldn’t just choose everything.
The survey did not ask for a single concern, as is often the case with typical surveys. Instead, the survey allowed the participants to determine how important the budget decisions were in relation to one another.
“To get something, you have to give something up,” said Peterson. “In this environment you will see more realistic answers.”
After answering a series of questions, respondents’ preferences could be determined through statistical analysis.
The survey found that people cared about cuts in all five areas – cuts in K-12 funding, cuts in state and local funds, using savings, or increasing personal taxes.
But the relative importance of each category was different, noted Godby. “People are most concerned about the decline in K-12 funds and tax increases, and much less concerned about the use of savings.”
Approximately 480 people from all boroughs of Wyoming participated in the survey. The sample group was relatively representative of Wyoming as a whole in terms of age, education, and politics. SDR Consulting conducted the study and gathered responses from a pool of citizens across the state. The researchers conducted the survey in November and December.
On Friday, the researchers also offered lawmakers a tool to make decisions based on these data. The interactive tool allows users to hypothetically increase or decrease funds for different parts of the budget to see how this will affect public support.
The full poll results will be released this week.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include additional context on how the researchers conducted the survey.
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