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Revenue Committee takes another crack at fuel tax

By Ramsey Scott

Wyoming Tribune Eagle

Via Wyoming News Exchange

CHEYENNE — The Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Revenue Interim Committee will take another swing at trying to raise the state’s gasoline tax after failing to connect during this year’s session.

The Revenue Committee voted 8-6 on Tuesday to approve sponsorship of a bill that would raise the state’s gasoline and diesel tax by 3 cents per gallon.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation estimates that increase would generate about $20 million in additional state revenues annually.

After that new money was split up between the cities, counties and WYDOT, the state would have roughly an additional $13 million per year to put toward road maintenance.

While that is just a drop in the bucket of the more than $73.3 million in unmet construction and maintenance needs the state faces, WYDOT Director Luke Reiner said it would allow his organization to at least make some headway.

“This would help us keep the roads at the level they are,” Reiner said Tuesday during the meeting in Cheyenne. “Obviously, any money helps.”

The 3-cent increase would mark the first time the state has raised its gas tax since 2014. In that time, Reiner said 27 other states have raised their own taxes, and Wyoming currently has the 34th-lowest fuel tax in the country.

Of states in the region, only Colorado has a lower fuel tax. Reiner pointed out Wyoming’s neighbor to the south is able to fund some of its road needs with an income tax, an option Wyoming doesn’t have for revenue.

This isn’t the first time the Revenue Committee has tried to increase the state’s fuel tax. The interim committee sponsored a bill for the 2019 session that would have increased the fuel tax by tying the rate to the Consumer Price Index. As that rate increased, the state would have been able to adjust its fuel tax to keep up with factors like inflation.

But that bill died in the House without even being introduced in a committee earlier this year.

Some of the opponents of the 2019 bill spoke in favor of the proposed 2020 legislation specifically because it didn’t include the ability to increase it without a legislative vote.

Bobby Rolston, chairman of the Wyoming Taxpayers Association, said his organization hasn’t had a chance to discuss the proposed fuel tax increase. But, at first blush, he said he believed they could support it specifically because it didn’t have an indexing component.

Mark Larson, executive vice president of the Colorado Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association, said his group could get behind a 3-cent increase. But raising it any higher at this time would make Wyoming uncompetitive with neighboring states.

Not all groups opposed to the 2019 bill seem to be onboard for this new version, however. Brett Moline, director of public and governmental affairs for the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, said his members would be significantly hurt by the increase in fuel taxes. Farmers operate on razor thin margins, Moline said, and the 3-cent increase would drive up transportation costs, which, in turn, would drive up production costs.

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