For years, Teton County officials in Cheyenne have been unanimous: They have supported a real estate transfer tax, hoping to recoup money from real estate sales and invest it in affordable housing.
But that unanimity could be eroded if Teton County elects one of four legislative candidates backed financially by Wyoming’s real estate lobby. Republicans Paul Vogelheim, Jim McCollum, Steve Duerr and Andrew Byron have all received money from the WY Realtors PAC.
All four candidates say they either oppose the tax or don’t support it outright, either because they have questions or because they want real estate agents to do more first.
Vogelheim, his opponent in the House District 23 race, Democrat Liz Storer, and House District 22 candidate Byron, are the top three fundraisers among Teton County legislative candidates this cycle.
They raised approximately $110,000, $70,000, and $50,000, respectively, between the primary and general elections.
The WY Realtors PAC, meanwhile, handed out more than $200,000 in primary and general, a combination of direct contributions and advertising. He gave Vogelheim $5,000 in publicity support and a cash contribution of $2,500. Byron received $5,000 in publicity support and $7,500 in cash. McCollum and Duerr each received $500. Devon Viehman, real estate agent and Jackson City Council hopeful, received $5,000.
“Wyoming Realtors and WYPAC support candidates who support realtor issues, regardless of the candidate’s political affiliation,” Wyoming Realtors President Duncan Bonine said in a statement, declining to comment. comment on support for particular candidates.
Duerr said he returned his $500 because he wanted real estate agents to “voluntarily step up and accomplish through private sector initiatives and voluntary contributions what the tax could do.” Duerr said he didn’t want his “credibility compromised” by taking money from the PAC.
Vogelheim said he didn’t see the check for $2,500 because he didn’t check the PO box it was likely sent to.
Most opponents of the Republicans — Storer, fellow Democrats Mike Yin and Mike Gierau, and independent Bob Strobel — support the tax. Libertarian Amanda Padilla does not.
None of these candidates have received support from Wyoming Realtors.
The Teton County delegation was the foundation of support for a real estate transfer tax in the Legislative Assembly, a notoriously tax-unfriendly body. Democratic Rep. Andy Schwartz lobbied for the bill for years with support from Sen. Gierau, Rep. Yin and Rep. Jim Roscoe, an independent of Wilson.
Schwartz and Roscoe are not up for re-election. Gierau and Yin are.
“It will be unfortunate if the Teton County delegation does not speak with one voice on this bill, because it will be hard enough to get it passed under any circumstances,” Schwartz said.
Laurie Urbigkit, lobbyist for Wyoming realtors, said the PAC only accepts money from realtors who live and work in Wyoming. When deciding who to fund, he focuses on making applicants consistent with Wyoming Realtors’ platform.
Opposing the real estate transfer tax is “definitely” part of it, Urbigkit said. But it’s not a dealbreaker if a candidate supports the levy.
“We are not a religion,” Urbigkit said. “It’s an overall picture of a candidate.”
Viehman, for example, supports property tax. “I went rogue against it, but they still got my back,” Viehman said of Wyoming realtors. The group’s real estate transfer tax platform may also change, Viehman said. The president-elect of Wyoming Realtors has named some people to the group’s board of directors who are in favor of the transfer tax, Viehman said. Counties other than Teton County are also experiencing severe housing issues.
More recently, Yin proposed a version of the bill that would have levied a 1% tax on sales of homes valued over $1.5 million, a floor intended to protect owners of lesser-valued properties — and Jackson’s middle class – paying the tax while putting the burden on higher value transactions.
A buyer buying a house for $1.75 million, for example, would pay the 1% tax on $250,000. The buyer of a $3.5 million home would pay tax on $2 million. In the third quarter of 2022, the average home in Teton County sold for $4.33 million. Under the bill, city councils and county commissions could put the tax on the ballot, indicating in advance where the money would be spent. Voters would then have the option of approving or rejecting the tax. If approved at the polls, voters would have the choice of keeping it every four years thereafter.
Yin’s bill walked out of committee in 2022 – the first time a bill authorizing the levy has done so – but failed the budget session’s introductory votes. The Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce supported the tax in this round.
Viehman, once an opponent of a real estate transfer tax, says she now supports the bill because it allows counties and voters to decide whether they want to impose the tax on themselves.
“There’s a responsibility to that,” she said. “He holds elected officials accountable to spend the funds in the right way.”
Legislative candidates who oppose the tax approach it from several angles: anti-tax sentiments, concern over exactly how the funding would be spent, and concern that the measure will place an additional burden on residents trying to buy houses. Two of the Republicans – Byron and Duerr – are both realtors, although Byron said the tax, if passed, would not affect realtor bottom lines.
“I don’t believe it would negatively affect the regional market,” Byron said.
McCollum said he was against “the entire transfer tax” and instead proposed subsidizing housing with a 3% tax on ski passes. Duerr said that rather than supporting a tax, real estate agents should donate 1% of their revenue to initiatives such as the Teton Board of Realtors’ Community Housing Fund.
If they don’t, Duerr said, he might support the tax.
When asked in September if he was contributing to the fund, Duerr responded by saying he would commit to donating 1% of his proceeds from any closures in Teton County — not that he would. did. Duerr said his closures are usually elsewhere.
As the organizer of the fund, Viehman said she was not aware of any donations from Duerr.
Viehman said the fund is not an alternative to a tax: “A transfer tax would have brought in $40 million last year. There’s no way real estate agents are contributing $40 million in a year. The Community Housing Fund has raised just over $500,000 since its launch in fall 2021.
Byron believes the tax would hurt Teton County residents who have seen the value of their first home rise and are now trying to move sideways in the market.
“I fundamentally don’t believe that more and more taxes will solve any of these problems,” Byron said.
Vogelheim, meanwhile, said capping property taxes was more important to him than the property transfer tax. He thinks it’s not worth coming back now.
“The legislature is not ready for this,” he said. “Let’s leave that on the back burner.”
Proponents of the real estate transfer tax say it’s one of the only ways to reliably ensure a flow of funding to support social housing projects, which the Jackson/Teton County Department of Affordable Housing built in partnership with non-profit organizations and other private promoters. Examples include the 75 Jackson Street apartments being built by Snake River Brewing, a partnership with the Cumming Family Foundation, and the 24 King Street Condominiums, being developed with the Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust.
“People who buy second homes and claim the residence to reduce their own tax burden are not contributing enough to ensure that we have a sustainable community,” Yin said. “If you want to help with this growing crisis in real estate values in our county, you can help be part of the solution.”
Proponents contrasted a steady stream of funding for housing with the $80 million in excise tax measures for specific housing-related purposes in the November ballot.
“It’s great, but it’s a one-time event,” Schwartz said.
Building affordable housing for local workers in Teton County is expensive. The county, for example, invested $10 million in apartments on Jackson Street. The Cumming Foundation invested $20 million. The King Street Condominiums, meanwhile, cost nearly $23 million, including $4.5 million in public funds.