Q&A with Mary Throne, Wyoming Democratic Governor Candidate
1. Wyoming had a spending deficit of 1.15 billion dollars during the last budget session. Would increasing property taxes be one way you would ensure that government is funded?
Historically, 70 percent of state revenue has come from oil, coal, and natural gas. This has produced wide swings in our state revenues, resulting in sharp cuts any time those commodities face challenges. In 2014-15, all three commodities were in crisis. In particular, the price of oil plummeted. While it has recovered, and coal has stabilized, natural gas prices remain low. I would also add that the deficit, looking at all sources of revenue, is around $300 million.
The unstable revenues harm all of our state efforts to properly fund rural schools in our ag communities, and our ability to maintain roads and infrastructure. To end the boom/bust cycle of Wyoming we need to invest in our communities and broaden our tax base. I support a Tax Reform 2020 proposal introduce in the legislature to look into what options we have to develop a fair, equitable and competitive tax structure. I think it would be fair to consider changing property tax assessment ratios for industrial and commercial properties and perhaps, residential, but the details matter. Agricultural property is a separate category.
2. Do you feel environmental groups like the Sierra Club have helped or hurt the ag industry? How will you work with them to ensure Wyoming agriculture is promoted not crippled by their actions?
I feel that in many cases the actions of the Sierra Club and other groups have harmed Wyoming’s economy. As an attorney, I litigated against the Sierra Club to protect Wyoming energy jobs, twice taking on their Beyond Coal campaign and winning. Many of their actions seem designed primarily to disrupt development rather than to call to question the extensive impact studies that have taken place.
As governor, I’d work with any group that wants to make a good faith effort to help Wyoming’s ag industry. As the daughter of ranchers, I know that our agricultural producers across the state know the true meaning of conservation and will work with the Ag community to communicate this message to the environmental community.
3. What are some of the solutions you see to the challenges in Wyoming agriculture today?
Agriculture remains an important sector in Wyoming’s economy. We need to look for new opportunities for our agricultural products, including economic development efforts to create a Wyoming brand for beef. I will continue efforts to get a USDA certified plant in Wyoming. I see an entrepreneurial spirt in ag across the state, which needs to be nurtures. Improving technology, broadband and internet access to our rural communities will also help our ag communities take advantage of new opportunities. Repairing Wyoming’s broken healthcare system will also help support our ag communities.
4. What is your position on a state Country of Origin Labeling law?
Ideally, we would be able to pass such a law. However, my understanding is that we cannot implement such a law in Wyoming. I would prefer to look for branding opportunities for Wyoming ag products and be proactive to create opportunities for Wyoming.
5. What are your thoughts on the recent return of the grizzly bear to the Endangered Species List? Will this help or hurt agriculture? How?
We should do our best to manage things on the state level so that species don’t dwindle to the point that they are added to the ESL, because at that point the state loses control. I oppose the re-listing of the grizzly not only because of its potential negative effects on agriculture, but because Wyoming is best-suited to manage the grizzly and has met its goals for repopulation. Wyoming has the wildlife expertise to best manage not only the grizzly, but other species as well.
6. Do you support any changes to the Wyoming brand law? Specifically, do you support county-to-county inspection?
I do not support changes to our brand law at this time. I support county-to-county inspection since they avoid ownership disputes or confusion. However, I understand there is a cost associated with the process, both in terms of cost and delay. I would hope that we could work to make the system efficient and cost-effective for all those who depend on it.
7. How important are private property rights? Do you believe energy companies should have the right to use eminent domain to gain access to private land for energy development? How should those landowners be compensated?
As a legislator, I have a long record of supporting private property rights. I continue to be an owner of my family’s ranch in Campbell County and long ago, learned the importance of private property rights. Eminent domain, however, is sometimes necessary to allow energy development to proceed, but when it occurs, it means the process has failed in some capacity. Landowners should be compensated at or above fair market value and the process needs to work well for all involved parties.