Wyoming gets more than 70 percent of its total revenue from taxes on mineral extraction (such as coal, oil and gas), but extraction companies owe over $42 million in unpaid county taxes throughout the state, according to a recent report from the Powder River Basin Resource Council. Many are bankrupt or otherwise defunct, so collecting will be difficult.
Though the basin is the nation's most productive coalfield, production peaked in 2008. And as coal jobs melted away, so did some of the state's tax base: Wyoming lost a higher percentage of its population than any other state in 2017.
The report lays out four suggestions to help fix state and local tax systems hurt by the coal bust:
- Counties should collect mineral taxes monthly instead of yearly;
- Counties should file liens for mineral taxes, making them a higher priority for collections if a company goes bankrupt;
- Establish a state fund to help counties hire specialized legal counsel during bankruptcy proceedings;
- Pass a law allowing regulators to check the status of a company's tax debt in Wyoming before allowing sale or transfer of assets.
The group also recommends that the state better enforce mine-reclamation laws to restore the environment and extend mining-industry jobs, as well as diversify the state's economy so it won't be as dependent on mineral extraction.