CHEYENNE -- State lawmakers took a wait-and-see approach to a pair of highway funding bills in the days before Friday's third and final vote in the House on a contentious fuel-tax hike.
House Bill 69 calls for a 10-cents-per-gallon increase in the state tax on gasoline and diesel. An amendment to reduce the hike to 5 cents was voted down during Thursday's second reading.
The legislation passed its first floor vote in the House on Wednesday, 34-26. The bill needs at least 31 votes Friday to clear the House and advance to the Senate.
Erin Taylor is the director of the Wyoming Taxpayers Association and head of a coalition of 17 organizations pushing for the tax increase.
Taylor said late Thursday afternoon that the coalition is "cautiously optimistic," but believes Friday's vote will again be close.
"People have made up their minds," she said of House members. "No one is waffling. No one is moving."
Rep. Mike Madden, R-Buffalo, has estimated that a family that drives 20,000 miles per year will see an $8 per month increase in fuel costs, or $96 per year. That's less than a prior estimate that the higher tax would mean an additional $114 per year for the average family.
Meanwhile, a bill that would divert mineral tax money to state and local roads and highways was put on hold Thursday in a Senate committee as a possible alternative to a higher fuel tax.
Senate File 109 would take 50 percent of the revenue from the 1 percent mineral tax that automatically goes into the state's Permanent Mineral Trust Fund.
The diversion would free an estimated $73 million per year for state highways, county roads and city streets.
The proposal to raise the fuel tax from 14 cents to 24 cents per gallon would raise about $71 million per year.
Gov. Matt Mead has supported the fuel tax hike, but has recommended the mineral tax diversion as an alternative.
Sen. Stan Cooper, R-Kemmerer, is the sponsor of SF109. He said his bill could be an "and/or bill," meaning it could be used instead of the higher fuel tax or could be combined with the tax bill to raise more money.
Cooper noted that the Wyoming Department of Transportation estimates it needs $134 million a year just to maintain the state's highways in their current condition.
"I think this is a good way because it doesn't add a tax to industry or the people in the state," Cooper said of the mineral severance tax bill.
Rep. Patrick Goggles, R-Ethete, is a co-sponsor of Cooper's bill. He said he has heard for years that state agencies need consistent sources of revenue to allow for long-term planning to make operations more efficient, which the legislation would accomplish.
No one opposed the mineral tax diversion during the committee meeting.
Ken Hamilton, representing the Wyoming Farm Bureau, said that while the organization is reluctant to support a higher fuel tax, it does want to help support highways.
Cooper's bill, he said, helps highways without going into the pockets of citizens who cannot afford it.
Mark Larson, of the Wyoming Petroleum Marketeers Association, said his group always realized it would take a "portfolio" of more than one source of revenue to meet state and local road needs.
Cooper said he would like to see the mineral tax bill pass out of committee.
"We don't know what's going to happen with the gas tax bill," he said.
But Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said it may be good to table the option for now.
Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Casper, said the committee should not let the fate of the fuel tax influence its decision on Cooper's bill.
The vote to table the bill until Jan. 23 passed 4-1, with Anderson casting the no vote.
The only other bill filed so far to help finance highways is Senate File 102, sponsored by Case. The proposal, which authorizes the highway commission to prepare for tolling on Interstate 80, was tabled in the Senate Committee on Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs on Wednesday evening.