GILLETTE — The mayor of the coal capital of Wyoming offered pointed criticism of the Legislature earlier this month, saying lawmakers need to focus on finding solutions for cities and towns trying to diversify and grow their economies.
“I guess I’m pretty frustrated with our Legislature,” two-term Gillette Mayor Louise Carter-King told WyoFile on June 5. The comments stemmed from her exasperation over lawmakers’ failure to pass a proposed lodging tax she said would have helped Wyoming cities and towns.
“I don’t see what they’ve done — I mean they should be doing what each community is trying to do collectively,” she said. They should ask “what can help us” evolve our economies.
Instead, she’s seen lawmakers focus on political spats of little value to Gillette, she said. “I know with our own [Campbell County] legislators the last time I heard what they’re going to do is they were worried about Democrats changing to Republicans on voting day and just ridiculous stuff,” she said. “How is that going to help us? Who cares? Shut up and let’s get something done.
“Talk about what you can do for us,” she said.
In Gillette, Carter-King said city and county leaders are striving to take advantage of a tax revenue reprieve from increased oil activity to come up with new ideas as the coal industry, the region’s economic mainstay, falters. Community leaders are focused on new ideas for coal outside electricity and on turning Campbell County into a home for energy and carbon capture innovation by investing in career and technical education in their community college, she said.
Campbell County has for years played an outsized role in Wyoming’s revenue picture. It is home to the Powder River Basin coal mines that bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in state severance and ad valorem taxes, as well as federal mineral royalties that come back to Wyoming. Carter-King argues that now the Legislature needs to back local efforts to diversify its local economy and find ways to keep generating revenues out of fossil fuels.
“I would hope the state realizes that how Gillette and Campbell County go they’re going to go,” she said.
Carter-King was particularly frustrated by lawmakers failure to pass the lodging tax, which she said could have helped tourism, the state’s second-biggest industry behind the energy business. The tax was slated to provide money for state-run advertising campaigns to draw visitors to Wyoming.
“That would help the entire state,” she said. “Why aren’t we doing stuff to help ourselves rather than… what are we doing?
“I still don’t understand it and no one has told me a reason why it died or what the push-back was other than ‘oh we don’t want more taxes,’” she said.
By Andrew Graham