By on May 31, 2016

Save a Bison, Euthanize a Local

160601FromOurReaders“Does someone around here not like tourists?”

“What do you mean?”

“Does someone at this restaurant not like tourists? While we were having dinner just now, someone put a bumper sticker on our car that says ‘Save a bison calf, euthanize a tourist.’”

Seriously, Jackson? Is that what we’re doing now—vandalizing the vehicles of the people who come to this town because it’s beautiful and they think it would be a great place to visit for a week. That’s so awesome! What a great way to spend some free time on a Saturday evening, slapping bumper stickers on random cars to make fellow earthlings feel bad about being somewhere other than their hometown.

It’s not like anyone in Jackson came from anywhere else to live here. It’s not like anyone in Jackson travels every off-season to some developing country and expects their hosts to speak English, provide excellent customer service and astonishingly great deals along with a smile. It’s not like all the money in this town comes from tourism since there’s no resource extraction, manufacturing, or tech industry here. There are literally thousands of small towns in the Rockies that don’t have a tourist-based economy, and Jackson cynics can leave their river/ski hill/restaurant jobs and go mine for coal if they’d prefer not to live near the national parks and major ski resort.

On the flip side, it was well intentioned but really foolish to put a “cold” bison calf in the back of a car and take it away from its herd. It’s also ludicrous to take selfies with wild animals from arm’s reach away, or try and ride moose, or do any number of ill-advised things people do when they come here. But are we going to purposefully make visitors feel like they’re not welcome, like they’re boneheads, like they are, how shall I put it, lesser than we “true” Jacksonites because they haven’t been here more than three weeks/seasons/years/generations?

I’ll admit, the bumper sticker itself is pretty funny… on your own car, you vandal trash. The irony of the situation is that the violated vehicle belongs to people who were born here and are raising a family here. What’s even more ironic is that the sticker was probably placed there by some transplant from the South/Midwest/Vermont/California.

– Frankie McCarthy, Jackson

Sliding Questions

The Federal Income Tax filing deadline has passed. It was a bit confusing this year because the date was shifted three days by a federal holiday in Washington, DC.  As confusing as that sounds, it was simple compared to the nuances of the taxes we face daily. Do you know how many taxes and fees you pay each day?  With just a little bit of research you can find about a dozen or so that you may be subject to at any one time.

Starting today, however, I will focus on the local Sales Excise Taxes, what we commonly refer to as sales tax.  What makes this discussion so important and unique today is that in a few short months, in August and November, YOU will have the opportunity to vote regarding some aspects of the local sales taxes.

For some background information, the Federal government cannot impose a general sales or use tax, but it can impose some excise taxes. If you buy motor fuel, you know of one. Only the states impose sales tax, but five do not. I will bet you know of one or two nearby states that have no sales tax. The 45 states that do have a tax run from 2.9 to 7.5 percent basic rate, with some states adding special area or application taxes – like a resort area tax – that run the highest state’s composite rate to 13.5 percent. As citizens with some money to spend, we are never far removed from the tax man. I recall what some past wit had to say about death and taxes.

Now that we have a bit of information on the size and reach of some state sales taxes, the legitimate question is what are these funds used for, and what are the reasons stated for imposing the taxation? Some uses are just for general operations—think of it as an allowance given to the jurisdictions, just like you got from Mom and Dad when you were young. That worked fine with you and your parents as long as the use was reasonable and the amount was not too excessive. However, things change as time goes by, as we are about to discuss.

Some uses for tax revenue can be for sudden unanticipated expenses; if you have a flat tire on your bike you turn to the bank of Dad for the funds. Some tax uses may be punitive or to control social activity, like sin taxes on tobacco or alcohol. While we are discussing some esoteric ideas, the term “need” often comes up when justifying a tax for some use. Please remember that “need” is a subjective quantity, it goes with the term “want,” while “use” is clearly objective.  Later we will discuss the emotional need for which we want to collect a tax for a targeted use.

Your first opportunity to chime in on a requested tax will be the proposed August vote on the SPET (Specific Purpose Excise Tax). In March 2016, the town council and county commission unanimously approved a resolution to place a proposition on the primary ballot in August, to fund the stabilization of the landslide above West Broadway, formerly the Budge Drive Slide.

That SPET resolution placed a $6 million amount in the request. The town has said that $6M is the only additional funds needed to mitigate the town side of the slide, and that other funds have been obtained, or are expected from other sources, to satisfy the estimated $10 million total west side mitigation costs. The east half of the slide will be the responsibility of Walgreens and its associates. To put this expense into perspective, in late 2015 the town had identified 17 potential SPET requests for funding totaling nearly $150 million.

What sets the Budge Drive Specific Purpose request apart from others?  I would like “Specific” in SPET to be replaced with SPECIAL. Budge Drive is certainly special, the slide area represents a Sword of Damocles hanging above our heads. It is moving very slowly and though an eyesore, it appears to not be an immediate danger to the area. However, responsible geological sources have assured us it could become a climax slide into and through West Broadway. I need not spell out the problems that would cause. Information on the history of the landslide, its natural and probable manmade triggers, is elegantly presented by geologist Peter Ward on the web at

As Ward explained, for the past 60 years or more, several individuals and agencies have done things at the site of the Budge Slide to probably exacerbate the situation.  If you poke at something long enough, eventually it will bite you. We have been bitten and we need to resolve this problem now, while it is still relatively benign, and continue to seek reimbursement from those historical pokers.  The Budge Drive Slide is a Very Special Purpose to be dealt with now.

The probability of a climax slide may be low but the potential damage from it is severe.  That makes the threat quite real and serious. Under these conditions it is easy to see the real “need” for mitigation of the slide, because we “want” to be free of the threat and can “use” the money for the mitigation.  The idea here is to fix it now, while still seeking reimbursement from others for the cost.

In the future, I hope to discuss a few possible Specific Purpose requests, none of which are so Special and perhaps do not rise to the level that the SPET was originally designed to satisfy.  After that I will discuss the general spend-and-tax spiral we find ourselves in, what causes it, under what authority and how to deal with it. This will not be a quick fix. Stay tuned.

– Bob Culver, Jackson

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