By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
The overwhelming majority of residents in Wyoming support the use of fossil fuels. But more taxes on those fuels? Well, that’s a different matter.
But Wyoming needs the proposed increase in fuel taxes to keep up with its highway maintenance, according to an official with the Wyoming Department of Transportation.
Doug McGee, public affairs manager for WYDOT, told Cowboy State Daily the department is facing a shortfall of about $354 million in unfunded needs per year. “Certainly, this fuel tax is very much needed to maintain our roads and bridges – our transportation system – to the level that Wyoming citizens expect,” McGee said.
House Bill 26, which would increase the state’s fuel tax from 24 cents to 33 cents per gallon for both diesel and gasoline, passed the House Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee last week on a 6-3 vote. The extra 9 cents per gallon would be a 37.5 percent increase in the state’s fuel taxes and would bring Wyoming’s fuel tax to the same level as neighboring Idaho.
The increase would also boost the state’s ranking for fuel taxes from 33rd for gasoline and 34th for diesel to 18th and 19th, respectively, according to a report from the American Petroleum institute.
The Legislative Service Office reports that tax increase would raise almost $61.5 million.
McGee noted that the bill has a larger benefit than just raising money for roads — it would contribute to the economic well-being of the state.
“Wyoming’s economy — indeed, the nation’s economy — travels on Wyoming’s roads,” he pointed out. “We need good, solid infrastructure to keep our economy strong.” McGee added that tourism, the third largest economic sector in the state, relies on the highways and interstates that the bill would help maintain.
McGee said the department would receive a little over $40 million of the $61.47 million the increased tax would generate – and while that is just a fraction of the shortfall WYDOT is facing, every dollar counts.
“There are projects that we’ve had to delay,” he said. “There are very serious maintenance needs across the state. So $40 million dollars would make a big impact, and would be very important to the department.”
WYDOT Director Luke Reiner has said that for every dollar not spent on preventative maintenance on roadways, $4 to $8 will be required for complete highway reconstruction down the road.
The increase has won the support of a number of organizations including the Powder River Basin Resource Council, Wyoming Taxpayers Association, Wyoming County Commissioners Association, Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association, and Wyoming Association of Municipalities. The groups spoke in favor of the tax increase during a hearing on the bill held by the committee on Feb. 23. Many said that although they would not normally support increased taxes, the fuel tax proposal is different.
“The quality of our roads and bridges in Wyoming are in deterioration,” Jim Willox, president of the county commissioners association, was quoted as saying by The Sheridan Press. “Unless we immediately start taking paths to correct that, we will affect the economic well-being of our state in such a way that I don’t think we can recover.”
Rep. Donald Burkhart, R-Rawlins, has proposed an amendment to the bill that would spread the tax increase over three years.
The proposed increase will be considered in the Wyoming House of Representatives in the legislative session this month.