Rep. Mike Yin talks traveling to Cheyenne, serving his constituents and Wyomingites across state

Representative Mike Yin faces a unique set of challenges when he travels from Jackson to Cheyenne to work on behalf of his Teton County constituents.
Democratic Representative Mike Yin is serving his third term for Jackson. He is up for re-election, if he decides to run, at the end of the year. (Courtesy of Mike Yin)

by | Apr 22, 2024 | Politics & Policy

House Minority Leader Mike Yin faces unique challenges when he travels from the far Jackson to Cheyenne: sky-high property values and taxes, a dearth of housing options for low-income workers and a median income that’s much higher than most other communities in the state. All of these challenges make Teton County feel like another world. But Yin, a Democrat, says he’s working on behalf of the entire state and its residents.

KHOL’s David Dudley spoke with Representative Yin about housing, abortion and the potential special session that was voted down recently. 

Editor’s Note: This interview was edited for clarity and brevity. 

David Dudley/KHOL: We’re here today to talk about the process of coming from Jackson, Teton County, down to Cheyenne. Can you tell me the broad strokes? What does that process mean for you?


Mike Yin: So we’re in one corner of the state, and I have to go to the other corner of the state to represent my community, but also to represent what I believe the best interests of the state are. So not just my community, but the entire state. And that broadly means trying to take care of both my constituents, but also everyone in Wyoming at the same time.

KHOL: And how does that work for you? What do you prioritize whenever one thing butts up against another?

Yin: I always think about the values that I tried to express when I ran for office, especially the first time and every other time, which is: How do we make sure Wyoming is a place that you can raise a family? How do you make sure that your kids can have the opportunity to start their own business? Or have some sort of career in Wyoming? And how do you make sure that those kids are able to have the opportunity to start their own family in the future? And so when I try to think of both my community, or other communities, is how does it go back to those core values.

KHOL: Okay, and as you’re meeting to plan the year to come in interim committees, what are some of the issues that you’re primarily concerned with?

YIN: You know, I think we had a brief conversation about housing. Housing is super important in my community. When I talk about those values of being able to raise a family in Wyoming, it’s getting harder and harder. I mean, it’s always been hard in Jackson, but it’s getting harder and harder in every other community across the state. So I think that’s a shared concern that is worth hearing during the interim.

KHOL: And there are lots of different perspectives on how to deal with the affordability crisis in housing. What can government do to help that situation?

YIN: I think that there’s a lot of things that we can do. I mean, clearly, the concerns that we have in Jackson are quite exacerbated compared to other areas. So there are different types of places that government can intervene to help address the situation. The question is, I think, more so what kind of options can we give local communities to ensure that they solve the problem? I think that there are a bunch of different ways. And I’ve proposed different ways myself, right? So I’ve proposed, with former Representative [Andy] Schwartz (D-, Jackson Hole), a real estate transfer tax and being able to use that transfer tax to help build new affordable housing in our community. I think that’s still a possibility. But I think that there are also all kinds of – like, for example, Cheyenne is bringing their own sort of ideas. And that could be a tool that we use across the state as well. I think, really, what we’re trying to create is the forum for people to bring solutions to us. And then we can determine if those solutions make sense for communities across the state.

KHOL: When you say that Cheyenne has brought something to the table, what is that they brought, that they’re suggesting?

YIN: So it sounds like from the conversation that we had in Management Council that they are interested in a tax incremental financing tool, which I believe is something where you help incentivize new housing to be built by borrowing against future property tax value increases. I think that’s an interesting tool. But I think we also just want to make sure that we are able to hear the topic fully to discuss whether it’s a good idea or a bad idea.

KHOL: And can you kind of tell me, when you come here to represent Teton, Jackson, what are some of the challenges that you face? Because you’re bringing certain concerns to the table, and they’re not always statewide. What are some of the challenges you face where that’s concerned?

YIN: I think it’s a broad range. I think people have a preconceived perception of what they believe concerns out of Jackson are, and so there’s the challenge of basically trying to get an accurate picture across to the rest of the state and to other members who represent other communities on what the issues in Jackson are.

And another challenge is that… frankly, that there’s a lot of money coming out of Teton County affecting how we discuss issues across the state. And that becomes a concern, because it’s hard to fight someone who can spend a lot of money to talk about your town in a way that’s disparaging to the rest of the state.

Lawmakers at their desks during a meeting in the Wyoming House of Representatives

Mike Yin in the center of a whirlwind of activity on the Wyoming House of Representatives’ floor (David Dudley/KHOL).

KHOL: And when you talk about Teton County, you know, they generate a lot of money because of property taxes. How does that funnel into the rest of the state?

YIN: I think one that you’ll hear a lot is that we’re not a recapture district. So the way that we fund schools is through property taxes. But we fund it through a model where all the property taxes get funneled into the state, and the state redistributes all of that to every school district to ensure that everyone gets approximately an equal education across the board. And so Teton County is one where it pays more in property taxes than it receives in school funding, or that the model allocates for its school funding. And so that way, we’re actually helping to fund schools across the state in Teton County.

I think that’s perfectly fair. I think that the ultimate concern is, does having those high property tax values make it harder for what I was talking about earlier – having people be able to raise a family in Teton County. So, it’s trying to deal with those push and pulls, but then also not incentivizing those property values to continue going up, but start going in the other direction maybe a little bit, to discuss how do we ensure that people can still afford to live in Teton County at all.

KHOL: Out of the topics discussed this morning, are there some that you’re hoping to work on that are maybe not being given the attention that they deserve?

YIN: You know, I think housing is a good one. But I think labor and health is actually going to be talking about maternity care and child care issues. And those, again, are really core family issues. But I think that those are also affected by what has been [one of] the majority party’s platform issues, which is abortion. And that affects how we talk about both maternity care and child care.

We’ve passed laws that criminalize doctors that do those kinds of things [abortions]. And so that makes it that much harder to have a baby in Wyoming … if we can’t have doctors who are willing to live in Wyoming, if they’re at risk of it, going to jail, frankly.

I think I’m glad that we have that topic. But I worry that that topic may not be solvable, as long as the party platform pushes for abortion to be completely outlawed in the state.

KHOL: [You and your colleagues in the House and Senate] have just dealt with a vote for the special session. Did that vote go as you had hoped?

YIN: I think the vote went in the direction that the body felt it should go, which is, frankly, that it didn’t pass. And that was the stance that I took, frankly, because I believe that the call for the vote was really more performative, to talk about people’s elections, rather than talk about actual issues that we needed to solve. So, yes, I think it went the way that I wanted. But I’m also really disappointed and frustrated by the fact that we burned an entire week of everybody’s lives trying to discuss the issue at all, when I didn’t think it was necessary to even call for the special session.

KHOL: Legislative leadership suggested that if it was possible to focus strictly on Senate File 54 [a bill that would’ve given home owners a 25 percent property tax cut, vetoed by Gov. Mark Gordon], they might have been more in support of a special session. Would you have been more supportive of that special session, if you could have focused on that single issue?

YIN: I think that it’s impossible to have that sort of discussion, given the way that the Legislature is currently composed. Because you would have to have two-thirds to pass a rule to be able to restrict [the special session] in that way. And I don’t think that that would have been actually possible. So, even if people said that they were going to do that, I’m not sure the trust is in the body to actually do that, especially given how recently we had a special session where there was supposed to keep it to a restricted number of bills, and that didn’t actually happen. So the idea that we would have been able to do that in any way, shape or form, to me seems like a fantasy.

This reporting was made possible by a grant from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, supporting state government coverage in the state. Wyoming Public Media and Jackson Hole Community Radio are partnering to cover state issues both on air and online.

Want More Stories Like This?

Donate any amount to support independent media in the Tetons.

KHOL 89.1 Jackson Hole Community Radio Membership Support Ad

About David Dudley

Related Stories

Honeymoon in Jackson ends with slashed car tires

Honeymoon in Jackson ends with slashed car tires

The Texas couple says they suspect it happened because of their “I stand with Israel” sticker. While police are still investigating, Jacksonites who support Israel and Palestine say they have also experienced increased harassment.

Pin It on Pinterest