SPET Showdown

By on April 21, 2017

JACKSON HOLE, WY – In response to a series of ads published by “Keep Wyoming Wild” and Save Historic Jackson Hole criticizing the SPET tax, Jackson Town Councilman Jim Stanford has challenged Justin Adams, co-founder of SHJH, to a SPET debate next week.

The “showdown” happens 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Elks Club and is open to the public. Bob Culver of the Jackson Hole Tea Party (another SPET critic) will also participate.

Stanford said he was inspired to bring previous conversations he’s had with Adams into the public eye. The ads in question, Stanford said, spread “a lot of misinformation.”

“I’ve been reading these ads for a long time,” he said. “The idea occurred to me a while ago. There’s only so much you can handle of people saying, ‘You’re a politician and can’t be trusted,’ and there’s a better way to deal with it than thousands of dollars in ads.”

Specific Purpose Excise Tax, SPET, is a single-penny sales tax that generates between $10 to 12 million in revenue for capital construction and infrastructure projects. On this year’s ballot are 10 projects totaling $68.5 million, plus a reallocation of $1.5 million for a pathway and underpass on South Highway 89. Ballot items include three affordable housing projects, additions to the START bus fleet, improvements to the START bus storage and fleet maintenance facility, and the construction of a Central Wyoming College Jackson campus.

Critics like Culver think that the ballot is asking too much. He worries that if all 10 ballot items pass the town will have its hands tied for funding of future critical projects. His weekly newsletters,  “Hole in One,” encourage voters to really educate themselves on the ballot before making any decisions, and to vote “no” on any items about which they are unsure. “If all of them are voted FOR you are committing to 6-plus years of increased taxes for everyone,” Culver said in his last newsletter. “If then, more future projects are desired, or a critical need arises, funding them may require additional taxes before any new SPET collection time expires.”

In the SHJH and Keep Jackson Wild ads, Adams calls SPET “irresponsible,” a “Trojan horse” and “growth enhancer.” They propose that SPET will only contribute to an unsustainable level of growth.

“We don’t want government to collect more tax money to get bigger, busier, louder and faster,” one of the ads reads. “More housing means more hotels, cars, buses, parking lots, office buildings, stores, noise, and then we need more housing, and more taxes… WE CAN’T BREATHE.”

“Government want your mortgage money to pay someone else’s rent because we’ve built too many hotels,” reads another.

“My basic message is that enough is enough, we cannot develop our way out of development problems, and many of the SPET items are growth enhancers,” Adams said in a statement.

Stanford said he is sympathetic to Adams’ desire to preserve the community. But “fingering government as a driver of growth,” Stanford said, is both inaccurate and unproductive.

“From where I sit, growth is occurring, and we’re falling further and further behind in keeping up,” he said. “Community demand is rising, and our ability to pay for them has stayed flat or is declining.”

Stanford hopes Adams will follow through on his original acceptance of the invitation, though Adams has since gone back and forth on whether he will attend, citing family commitments. “[Adams] doesn’t put his names on the ads, doesn’t come to meetings to speak, he just puts on the ads, attacks us and attacks these initiatives. I think it’s important to have this discussion, we’re lagging behind in actually paying for the cost of these services.” Plus, Stanford said, “it’s an opportunity to have some fun.”

“We can disagree on many things, and remain friends,” he said. “After the discussion, I look forward to sharing a beer with Justin and talking about hunting.

The debate will happen with or without Adams—Stanford said he would accept a stand-in on Adam’s behalf—but “it’ll be much more fun with him there.”

There will be time for public questions after the debate, and drinks will be available for purchase at the Elks Club.

Adams could not be reached for comment.

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