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Wyoming Lodging Tax

New Tax On Lodging Coming To Wyoming In 2021

in Column/CJ Baker
State Capitol
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By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

Starting next year, Wyoming will begin assessing a new 5% tax on overnight stays at hotels, motels, RV parks, campgrounds, guest ranches, Airbnbs and other lodging facilities around the state.

The statewide lodging tax passed the Wyoming Legislature March 2 — surviving a narrow vote in the Senate — and was signed into law by Gov. Mark Gordon on Friday.

Of the new tax, 3% will go to the state government to fund the Wyoming Office of Tourism, which promotes the state as a destination for visitors across the globe; the other 2% will stay in the county where it’s collected to boost local tourism. Counties will have the option to seek another 2% for local tourism efforts — such as the Park County Travel Council — for a maximum total lodging tax of 7% (with 3% going to the state and 4% to the county).

Claudia Wade, the travel council’s executive director, said the marketing and promotions that currently are and will be funded by lodging taxes are needed to draw tourists.

“I think tourism is important to this state given the situation with our oil and gas and it is a very strong second industry in Wyoming,” Wade said. “And we need to keep promoting Wyoming and Cody needs to keep promoting this East Entrance as well as all of the other things Park County has to offer.”

Park County voters have long imposed a 4% tax on lodging to fund the travel council’s marketing efforts. This November, they’ll be asked to keep that funding intact, by approving an additional 2% local tax on top of the mandatory 5%.

Particularly given the impacts that the new coronavirus is expected to have on global travel — and with the state and county constantly competing for tourists with other communities around Yellowstone National Park — “I think that we’re going to need this [lodging tax] as much as we ever have had to,” Wade said.

Even if Park County voters approved an additional 1% sales tax, bringing the combined tax on lodging to 12%, it would still be below average for the country, Wade said.

The new statewide lodging tax passed the Senate by a 16-13 vote and the House by a 47-13 margin.

Park County lawmakers backed House Bill 134 by a 5-3 margin: Sen. R.J. Kost, R-Powell, Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, Rep. Sandy Newsome, R-Cody, and Rep. Jamie Flitner, R-Greybull, all supported the measure while Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, Rep. John Winter, R-Thermopolis, and Sen. Wyatt Agar, R-Thermopolis, each voted no.

Sen. Coe was a vocal backer of HB 134 when it came up for final approval on Feb. 28. He cited tourism industry research indicating that 85% of the tax will be paid for by out-of-state tourists and that the hike in taxes will not depress visits.

“Lodging tax does not prohibit somebody from making a decision to visit a state. That’s just the bottom line,” Coe said on the Senate floor.

He also read aloud a column from Lander journalist and businessman Bill Sniffin, who argued lawmakers would be foolish to not provide more support to its growing tourism industry. Sniffin wrote in his piece that “there truly is no place [in Wyoming] that does not benefit from the visitor.”

“A small amount of money spent with the state tourism department generates much more money — it is as simple as that. The more people we get here the more money they spend,” Sniffin argued, adding later, “If this is the one area of state government that is making money, why not spend even more and make even more money?”

According to industry figures, tourism employs roughly 31,000 people in the state.

“We need this in the future of Wyoming,” said Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Casper. “If you look out 10 or 20 years, this could possibly be our No. 1 industry.”

While the bill had the backing of the Wyoming Lodging & Restaurant Association and the Wyoming Travel Industry Coalition, the two hoteliers in the Senate — Democrat Lisa Anselmi-Dalton of Rock Springs and Republican Cale Case — both opposed it.

Sen. Case said the guests at his Lander establishment include far more Wyoming residents than claimed and he called the estimated impact of the tourism office’s efforts “way overblown” with “exaggerated claims about the success of the programs.”

“If you really dive into the expenditures … about out-of-state advertising firms and on and on and on, all to bring more people to an area that’s really suffering from the overcapacity,” Case said, referring to Yellowstone National Park and Teton County’s “overheated” economy.

“You try to drive across Yellowstone? Have you just tried to go there and enjoy yourself?” he asked. “It’s hard to do.”

Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, echoed the concerns about Wyoming’s tourism efforts primarily benefiting the Jackson area.

“The rural areas of this state are being left out of the promotion, the help, all that goes with it,” Dockstader said. When he asks lodging businesses in his district if they feel a boost from the millions of dollars the state pours into tourism, the answer has been “essentially no,” Dockstader said.

Senate critics also contended that the majority of Wyoming residents opposed the tax, citing emails from parents who rack up nights on the road while tracking their children’s sporting events.

“Most of you are going to vote on the sides of the lobbyists,” Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, told his colleagues. “I’m going to vote on the side of my people and the everyday citizen that can’t afford to drive down here and try to lobby you.”

Earlier, as the Senate debated an ultimately unsuccessful amendment that would have diverted 20% of the state’s share of the tax to K-12 education, Biteman noted it was likely to be the only tax the Legislature passes this year.

“… and it doesn’t go toward any of our structural [budget] problems,” he said, “it just goes to a private industry to promote themselves.”

However, Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, said the bill would help Wyoming’s efforts to broaden its tax base and diversify its economy.

A fiscal note attached to the legislation estimated that the 3% portion of the tax headed to state tourism efforts will raise roughly $18.6 million per year.

Lodging Tax: $21.5 Million Raised Statewide in 2019

in News/Taxes/Tourism
Lodging tax
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Because of the importance of tourism to local economies throughout the state, many counties are making the most of an optional tax that allows them to lure visitors, bringing much-needed tourism dollars to sluggish economies.

According to the Wyoming Travel Industry Coalition, the local option lodging tax works well as a source of revenue for local tourism promotion. 

A report released by the state shows that more than $21.5 million dollars was raised by lodging taxes statewide in 2019. 

Income from the lodging tax, which is assessed in addition to sales taxes, is earmarked for local travel promotion. The tax, which ranges from 2 percent to 4 percent, must be approved by local voters every four years. 

None of the lodging tax revenues can be used for projects outside of tourism advertising and promotion — no capital construction, no general funding for cities, towns and counties. 

But for many local governments, that tax income is a jump-start for the economy.

Claudia Wade, executive director for the Park County Travel Council, said that because of the lodging tax, the council can spend more dollars advertising attractions and recreation, which influences travelers’ decisions to stay longer in the area.

Because of its location, Park County is a natural draw for tourists heading to Yellowstone National Park. 

Wade said that because of the advertising financed with lodging tax revenue, more people are drawn to the region as tourists, which then allows more locals to stay employed.

“Because the lodging tax is collected on top of the sales tax, when visitors come to the area, they bring in more revenue that can be used for general fund purposes for local governments,” Wade said.

“Those expenditures have a big impact on our economics. The businesses that they’re frequenting also are hiring employees — which means those front line workers and workers behind the scenes all benefit from the tourism industry and visitors coming to the area.”

What the lodging tax does in Park County is indicative of its impact across the rest of the state. Laramie County received more than $2 million in lodging tax revenue last year, while Casper and the local governments in Natrona County received $1.8 million.

Park County, with Yellowstone as a major tourism draw, took in more than $3 million, and Teton County received more than $7.7 million in lodging tax dollars.

Wyoming law specifies that the tax must be used for travel and tourism promotion by the county or city approving the tax, and is limited to promotional materials, television and radio advertising, printed advertising, promotion of tours and other specific tourism related objectives. 

Wade pointed out that Park County does what most other counties do with the funds.

“We pay for connect TV ads, some print, there is some digital, and a lot of social media,” she explained, “so it’s a big mix – much bigger than when it was when we initially started in 1986.” 

Brook Kaufman is CEO of Visit Casper. She said the lodging tax makes a huge difference in the local economy in Natrona County.

“I think there is a perception that Natrona County doesn’t have a robust tourism economy, but we do,” she said. “It employs just over 2,600 people, generates almost $300 million in direct spend and $15 million in sales tax. For us, tourism is really critical to employment.”

Kaufman said Visit Casper invests the lodging tax dollars in marketing programs that drive return visits, which creates jobs and sales tax collections for both cities and counties. 

A statewide lodging tax bill is being proposed again this year at the Wyoming legislature, which Wade said would assist not only the individual counties, but the entire state.

“The lodging tax is important as a whole to the state — that additional money could be very beneficial to the Wyoming Office of Tourism, which has a broader reach than our local organizations,” Wade explained.

The Wyoming Travel Industry Coalition reports that the lodging tax makes up about 18 percent of the tax dollars from travelers. While a study by the American Economics group in 2008 concluded high room taxes can influence travelers’ decisions to stay in a certain city for any length of time, Wade said that’s not much of a concern in Wyoming.

“Our lodging tax rate here in Wyoming is fairly insignificant compared to other regions,” she said, noting that states such as Michigan (at 12 percent) and Connecticut (at 15 percent) have significantly higher lodging taxes than in the Cowboy State. 

Only five states have lodging tax rates lower than Wyoming, according to a report issued by the National Council of State Legislatures.

Governor Gordon Will Support New Lodging Tax to Promote Tourism

in News/Tourism/politics
Photo by Walter Sprague, Newcastle Newsletter Journal
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Photo by Walter Sprague, Newcastle Newsletter Journal

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

“I can support it,” Governor Mark Gordon said when asked if he can get behind the concept of a statewide lodging tax to fund the future of tourism.

Gordon was addressing the members of the Wyoming Press Association during that group’s annual meeting in Casper.

“This is an important step for the tourism industry, and I support that industry,” he said.

Tourism is the state’s second largest industry behind energy production and has more employees, 33,000, than any other industry.

Photo by Walter Sprague, Newcastle Newsletter Journal

The new lodging tax proposal contains the following items:

• New title- Wyoming Tourism Account Funding.
• Joint Appropriations Committee sponsored bill
• Imposes a 5% statewide lodging tax (3% dedicated to tourism 2% guaranteed and replaces existing 2% local option lodging tax)
• Up to additional 2% local option lodging tax can be renewed every 4 years but would be vote of governing local government (city council or county commissioners depending if city or county wide tax) instead of vote of the electorate.
• State parks overnight camping would be subject to the tax (except annual resident camping passes, state fair campgrounds and county fair campgrounds- they would all be exempt)
• 80% of the 3% that is dedicated to tourism would be deposited into the newly created tourism account and shall be spent on Wyoming Office of Tourism/Wyoming Tourism Board (subject to legislative approval before spending every year)
• Remaining 20% would be deposited into newly created tourism reserve account. (Subject to legislative approval before spending every year) No more “tipping point”
• Local option lodging tax permissible expenditures amended to include “digital content, social media, staging of events, educational materials and other tourism related objectives including those identified as likely to facilitate tourism or enhance the visitor experience”
• The Bill, if passed, effective January 1, 2021
• Thresholds for when lodging tax shifts from 90/10 to 60/30/10 updated to 2020 dollar values (nothing changes, the thresholds have always been tied to the cost of living index and so thresholds are simply updated to what they are in 2020-they remain tied to index moving forward)
• All existing local option lodging taxes stay in place until their next scheduled election.

Wyoming’s 65th Legislature: General Session Review

in News/Health care/Taxes/Education/Agriculture/Criminal justice
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It’s all over for this year. Check out our bitesized rundown of what passed and what failed in the 65th Wyoming Legislature’s General Session. Stay tuned this weekend for more analysis on the session highs and lows with our Robert Geha.

Thanks for watching and be sure to follow Cowboy State Daily for our expanded statewide coverage of Wyoming news coming to your feed in the days ahead.

Income tax, party switching dead, lodging tax alive

in News/Taxes/Criminal justice
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By Cowboy State Daily

The last of three bills that would have put restrictions on when voters can change party affiliations was among a number to die this week as the Legislature neared the end of its general session.

Legislators looking to wrap up their general session by Wednesday put in long hour this week finishing their work on a number of bills, eliminating several controversial measures.

HB 106 was the last of three bills that would have set time limits for people to change party affiliation. It would have set a deadline of May 1 for such changes. It was defeated in a 14-11 vote in its first Senate review.

Another bill killed would have imposed an income tax on large retail companies headquartered outside of Wyoming. HB 220 died without getting a review in a Senate committee.

Moving ahead, however, was a bill that would set a statewide lodging tax of 5 percent. HB 66 is set for a final vote in the Senate on Monday.

Approved with significant changes by the Senate was a bill originally designed to create a felony crime for animal abuse. HB 235 was amended to remove all language about the felony crime.

Wyoming Legislature: Where they are

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Wyoming Legislature bill analysis where they are
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Here is the status of some bills making their way through the Legislature’s general session:

HB 14 — Creating the “Mountain Daylight Savings Time” zone for Wyoming. Defeated in Senate “Committee of the Whole.”

HB 38 — Raising legislative expense reimbursements from $109 per day to $149. Vetoed by Gov. Mark Gordon.

HB 52 — Giving preference to Wyoming-made products in furnishing state buildings. Awaiting governor’s signature.

HB 66 — Setting a statewide lodging tax of 5 percent. Approved in second reading in Senate.

HB 71 — Raising the penalty for violating equal pay rules to $500 per day. Signed into law by Gov. Mark Gordon.

HB 140 — Imposing a 48-hour waiting period to perform abortions. No action will be taken in Senate committee before the end of session.

HB 145 — Eliminating the death penalty. Killed in Senate “Committee of the Whole.”

HB 192 — Requiring photo ID to vote. Killed on third reading in House.

HB 220 — Imposing an income tax on out-of-state companies with business locations in Wyoming. Died without review in Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee.

HB 251 — Authorizing Wyoming to sue the state of Washington over it refusal to allow the construction of a coal port. Approved in second reading in Senate.

HJ 1 — Asking the federal government to delist the grizzly bear. Signed by Gov. Mark Gordon.

SF 46 — Limiting the length of a prescription of opioids to 14 days. Approved in second reading in House.SF 57 — Setting a deadline for the release of public documents by government agencies. Awaiting report of “joint conference committee” to resolve Senate, House differences.

SF 119 — Making all expenditures by the state auditor’s office public and available for review. Died without review in House Appropriations Committee.

SF 129 — Repealing requirements for reports from the state Department of Education. Awaiting governor’s signature.

SF 148 — Allowing the state to seize and operate federal facilities — including national parks — under certain conditions. Killed in House Minerals Committee.

SF 149 — Creating a “Capitol Complex” around the state Capitol and giving the state building commission authority for planning in the area. Approved in first reading in the House.

SF 160 — Requiring changes in voter party affiliation to take place two weeks before absentee ballots are distributed. Died without review by House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee.

SJ 3 — Declaring Dec. 10, 2019, as Wyoming Women’s Suffrage Day. Signed into law by governor.

Lodging tax bill moves forward in Senate

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By Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would impose a statewide 5 percent tax on hotel and motel stays was approved in its first Senate review on Thursday.

HB 66 is set to receive a second reading Friday after senators voted 16-11 to approve it during the Senate’s “Committee of the Whole,” the full body’s first chance to review the bill.

If approved, the bill would require that money from 3 percent of the tax — about $19 million a year — go to the state Tourism Division. The division would no longer receive money from the state’s “General Fund,” its main bank account

Money from the other 2 percent would go to counties to replace income from their own lodging taxes when they expire.

Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, tried with an amendment to eliminate the extra 2 percent tax, saying that would make hotel stays too expensive for in-state travelers.

“It’s just making it more expensive to stay around Wyoming,” he said.

But Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, successfully urged the Senate to kill Case’s amendment, arguing local communities should be provided with a steady source of income to promote themselves.

“That allows for local communities to have a little bit of leverage,” he said. “Let’s give it to them.”

Updated: Lodging tax bill narrowly clears committee

in News/Taxes/Tourism
952

By Cowboy State Daily

A measure that would impose a statewide tax on all hotel and motel stays is headed for the Senate floor after clearing a committee on Tuesday.

HB 66, which would impose a statewide 5 percent lodging tax, won approval on a 3-1 vote from the Senate Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee. The bill now heads to the Senate floor for review by the full body.

Money from 3 percent of the tax — estimated at $19 million per year — would go to the state Tourism Division to finance its operations. The division would no longer receive funds from the state’s main banking account, the General Fund.

Revenue from the other 2 percent would be sent to communities to replace local lodging taxes when they expire.

The bill’s committee approval was welcomed by members of the tourism industry, who said Wyoming needs all the financial help it can get to lure visitors to the state.

“Montana, Colorado, Utah, they outspend us by almost double in some instances and tourism is a competitive business,” said Chris Brown, director of the Wyoming Restaurant and Lodging Association. “We’re just looking to grow our slice of the pie for Wyoming’s visitor economy.”

Committee member Sen. Lisa Anselmi-Dalton, D-Rock Springs, declared a conflict and did not vote on the bill because she owns a hotel in Rock Springs.

Anselmi-Dalton also said she is not a supporter of the tax because of the burden it puts on business owners.

“It’s a pretty heavy lift for some people,” she said. “When I put things out to bid at my hotel, (clients) say ‘This is my budget’ and I end up eating the tax.”

The vote came as legislators approached a deadline to address the bills in front of their committees. All committee work must be completed by Wednesday.


Legislators take up a host of education bills

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By Cowboy State Daily

Support for a plan to expand eligibility for the state’s Hathaway Scholarship is being voiced by groups that have not spoken out on the scholarship program before, according to the chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

SF 43, a bill that gained final Senate approval on Wednesday, would allow students taking technical and trade classes rather than foreign language classes to be eligible for the state-sponsored scholarship.

Coe said during debate on the bill, he’s heard from groups that have never testified on the program before, largely because the state needs more students trained through Career Technical Education programs or CTE.

“The (Wyoming) Stockgrowers (Association), the Business Alliance, the (Wyoming) Contractors (Association), all the people that support CTE” he said. “It’s a signficant problem in the state of Wyoming. There’s jobs that exist out there, but they can’t get skilled people to fill those jobs.”

The bill was approved on a vote of 28-2 in its third reading in the Senate. The bill now heads to the House for review by the state’s representatives.

On the House side, the House Education Committee is preparing to take up another education bill — one that would allow local school districts to set standards for the evaluation of their teachers.

The bill, HB 22, would require teachers to be evaluated annually until they meet performance standards two years in a row. After that, a teacher would only need to be evaluated once every three years at a principal’s discretion.

The evaluation every three years would provide a welcome relief for principals, said Kathy Vetter of the Wyoming Education Association 

“It frees up some time for our principals to be instructional leaders and not just be doing the paperwork on teachers they feel are  master teachers already,” she said.

Another House Committee, the Appropriations Committee, is looking at a bill that would repeal the state’s Family College Savings Program.

HB 118, proposed by Rep. Tom Walters, R-Casper, does away with a program that is not necessary, he said.

State law calls for the state treasurer to set up and administer a statewide college savings program as a trust to hold money deposited in it by Wyoming residents.

However, Walters said the issue was more about tax savings than paying for education. Federal programs already exist that allow people to get a tax break for money they put into special savings accounts. 

But Wyoming has no income tax, so the program had no benefit and was not being used, Walters said.

“Wyoming just didn’t have a need to set that up,” he said. “Somebody at one point thought we may, so we put it on the books. It was looked into, but never taken advantage of. No one wanted to use it because there already other mechanisms out there. Folks all over the state … are taking advantage of these plans. They’re just not using the Wyoming plan.”

Lodging tax clears first full House review

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By Cowboy State Daily

A proposal for a statewide lodging tax cleared an early hurdle in Wyoming’s House on Tuesday, while the Senate killed a bill that would have stiffened the penalties for animal cruelty.

Representatives, in their first full review of HB 66, agreed to move it forward to a second reading on Wednesday.

The bill would impose a statewide lodging tax of 5 percent, with 3 percent to be used to finance the state Tourism Division and 2 percent to go to local governments.

During its review of the bill, the House amended the measure to remove an exemption from the tax granted in the past for guides and outfitters.

Rep. Bucky Loucks, a member of the Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee which reviewed the bill prior to its debate on the House floor, said he likes the fact that the measure would make the state Tourism Division self-supporting.

“The bottom line is tourism is a great part of Wyoming,” he said. “It’s our second leading industry and it needs to be there. I’d like to see (the Tourism Division) supported by the industry it benefits.”

In the Senate, members defeated by a vote of 21-7 a measure that would have doubled some of the penalties handed down for people convicted of animal abuse.

Senate File 33 would have increased the fine for misdemeanor animal cruelty from $750 to $1,500, with that fine rising to $7,500 for a second conviction.

The Senate did give final approval to a bill that would limit opioid prescriptions for some patients.

Senate File 46, approved on a vote of 27-3, limits doctors to providing a 14-day prescription for opioids for patients who have not had an opioid prescription for 45 days. Cancer patients and those with chronic pain would be exempt from the limits.

The bill now heads to the House for review by representatives.

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