THEM ON US 6.29.16

By on June 28, 2016

Valley of the Doll(ar)s


JACKSON HOLE, WY – The perception that Jackson Hole has become a valley of the “have nots” is more than ideology. The data is in. Economic Policy Institute crunched numbers and spit out what most feel to be the hard reality in Jackson: Our Shangri-La is the most economically unequal place in the nation.

The disparity between mega-rich, middle class, and lower class is growing ever wider across the country, but in Jackson it’s magnified. In the U.S., the top 1 percent of earners take home 25 times what the rest of the 99 percent do. But in Teton County, the elite bank an astounding 233 times what the bottom feeders make.

That beats everybody. Even posh WASP-y neighborhoods like the Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut metro area were left in Jackson’s gold dust. That community, considered one of the wealthiest in America, managed a mere 74:1 ratio.

The Washington Post ran with the news, headlining the story: “Why some of America’s richest people are living in the middle of nowhere.” The Post called Jackson’s situation a case of “flown-in” inequality where billionaires who have already made their fortunes are choosing to take up residence in a tax-friendly state.

What’s scariest about the numbers is the top dogs are not exactly being compared to mongrels in Teton County. According to the Post’s analysis of EPI’s numbers: “The average income of a member of the 1 percent [in Teton County] tops $28 million, more than quadruple the next highest average in the country. Here, the income inequality is driven by the immense wealth of its richest residents. In Teton County, more than 9 percent of its households make more than $200,000. That’s  the highest in Wyoming by far—more than triple the state  average and more than double the rate of the next highest county.

“But the rest of Teton County is not much worse off. Even ignoring the households  making more than  $200,000, Teton County is still among the richest counties in Wyoming. It has the second-lowest rate of households making less than  $10,000 among the state’s 23 counties and its other low- and middle-income measures are similar. In other words, Teton County’s top 1 percent are so wealthy that they can take an already-rich community and still make it the most unequal place in America,” wrote Kim Soffen of the Washington Post.

State: budget pain

160629TOU-2State budget cuts were announced last week and they were painful. On June 21, Gov. Matt Mead said he would trim $248 million from state agency budgets over the next two years due to falling energy revenue.

The Casper Star Tribune reported the state’s financial woes might get worse as revenue shortfalls could ultimately exceed $500 million. About 5,500 jobs in the oil, gas and coal industries have already been lost.  The state’s School Capital Construction Account has been one of the hardest hit areas. Funds there are expected to drop from nearly $740 million in 2013-14 to just $26 million in 2019-2020.

County: budget gain

160629TOU-3Despite the state’s struggles to balance its worksheet, Teton County commissioners approved a $40M fiscal year 2017 general funds budget—a 2.8 percent increase over the previous year. The operational budget (+$870,374), capital projects expenditures (+$708,658), and operational reserve fund (+$93,427) also saw increases.

At the town level, increased sales tax collection bolstered Jackson’s bottom line. The FY2017 budget was approved last week for $51.2 million. That’s down slightly from FY2016. PJH

About Jake Nichols

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