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I recently had a conversation with a legislator about the work done on property tax relief this year.

Opinion

As he campaigns for reelection, this lawmaker is often hearing from constituents about rising property taxes and their frustration about government inaction. However, the Legislature has not been inactive on this issue. In the most recent legislative session, lawmakers passed four separate bills addressing property taxes, each of which will provide substantial relief. In his conversations with constituents, the legislator has been urging patience, rightly noting that legislation is not an overnight fix and that overreacting now would cause greater problems in the future.

This conversation resonated with me. Patience is key to good judgment and long-range thinking. It is also often sorely lacking when it comes to public affairs. We want immediate results, even when the better course of action is incremental and careful improvement. Property tax relief is a sterling example of an issue where patience is particularly important.

Rising property taxes are a significant issue and are worth careful consideration. Most of us have seen increases in property taxes in the past few years, corresponding with the rapid increase in home values. For some, this causes serious financial hardship, and our policymakers should take that fact seriously.

Fortunately, they have. In the last legislative session, they passed bills to give property tax rebates to low-income households, provide exemptions to veterans and discount property taxes for the elderly who are likely to be on fixed incomes and have been longstanding property tax-payers. They also instituted a cap on future assessments, limiting them to 4% increases per year.

These are all reasonable responses to the problems caused by increases in property tax assessments. They provide immediate relief to those who need it most, while ensuring that the greater problem is addressed moving forward. It avoids a kneejerk reaction, recognizes the need for certainty for both local government and taxpayers, and takes a careful, measured approach.

Conservative thought is based around the idea that changes should be undertaken carefully and incrementally. Our systems and institutions have been built over time and too much messing around with them makes them weak. Conservatism preaches patience as a core virtue. We need to return to that way of thinking.

As has been pointed out many times before, economic development and diversification are likely the greatest issues facing Wyoming. We need to develop a broader economic base to help build healthy communities and a stronger foundation for our future generations. Just as with other big projects, this is not something that should be done haphazardly and will not happen overnight. Wyoming needs to be patient as we address economic diversification, just as we must be while we address property taxes.

Part of the reason that patience is so important when it comes to economic diversification is that it is likely to come with some stops and starts. Businesses may succeed or fail. What looks like a great opportunity may not materialize, while new growth and industries may come from unexpected places. The important thing is not the success or failure of any individual project, but the willingness to keep trying and finding things that do succeed. We will almost certainly have some duds to go along with our success stories. We must have the foresight, and the patience, to recognize that failures are part of the process and do not mean that the effort was unworthy.

Lastly, patience must not be confused with procrastination. Even though we must be willing to allow time for policies to come to fruition, that does not mean we have the luxury of delaying action when it is necessary. Property tax relief required action. We now must have the patience to let that action take its course. Similarly, setting the stage for economic development and diversification is going to require some action, and when that happens, we must have the patience to let that action take its course as well.

There is a reason we say that patience is a virtue. It allows us to be thoughtful and prevents overreaction. It requires us to take measured steps and lets us see the impact of our actions before we undertake more. For property tax relief, we must have patience. The legislation passed this year is a great step. It may be all we need, and it may not, but we must have the patience to assess its impact before we go further down that road.

The same will be true of other issues facing our state. Whether big or small, smooth or in fits and starts, we must have the patience to see our choices through. Only then will we have the perspective to keep moving Wyoming forward.

Cheyenne attorney Khale Lenhart is a former chairman of the Laramie County Republican Party. He can be reached at khale.lenhart@gmail.com

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  1. Thanks for the article Khale. The problem is assessing properties at fair market value, which unfortunately is in the state constitution. FMV means nothing to homeowners who occupied their primary residence until they decide to sell. I wonder if there’s a way to allow annual increases based on inflation and community growth (with a cap), while deferring the remainder of tax payments until a property is sold. If the FMV is accurate owners should be able to pay the deferred taxes, but will not have to incur them while they are living in their house and perhaps forced to sell or leave.

    Patient is a virtue, but recognizing the root cause of the problem and then leading to fix the problem are not necessarily things that should take a long time.

  2. My guess is patience will be a big hit for senior citizens still waiting for a break on property taxes. Many cannot wait any longer, they are forced to sell their homes due to the fact they can no longer afford high property tax along with out of sight utility bills. They do not have many choices left at this point in their lives.