Terry Rehak of Worland says the proposed 10-cents-per-gallon increase in the state fuel tax should be put on a ballot for voters to decide.
The retired civil engineer said legislators appear to be leaning toward supporting a bill to hike the tax, although they have no clear mandate to do so from the citizens.
"I feel we're being held hostage by the people we elected to office," Rehak said Friday.
Rehak and other residents who oppose a higher gas tax may not win this one.
Legislative leaders place the gas tax among the top handful of issues facing the 62nd Legislature, which opens at noon Tuesday for a maximum 40-day general and budget session.
Supporters of the increase in the fuel tax to raise money to repair roads are more optimistic about a bill passing this year than than they were in the past.
A sizable coalition of more than a dozen organizations ranging from the Wyoming Taxpayers Association to the Wyoming County Commissioners Association support the bill.
The only groups publicly opposed are the Wyoming Farm Bureau and the Wyoming Liberty Group.
Opposition also is coming from people who are not represented by a lobbying group but who are talking to their legislators.
James Byrd, a Cheyenne Democrat, said that his constituents are adamantly opposed to a gas and diesel tax hike. That is one reason he is supporting a state lottery with the profits to go to local roads.
If that bill passes, he hopes it will take some pressure off the need for a fuel tax.
Rep. Allen Jaggi, R-Lyman, said he found very little support for the gas tax or higher game and fish fees among his constituents.
While he is sympathetic to the need for money to repair the roads, in particular, he believes the Wyoming Department of Transportation should look internally to see if it can do more with existing funds.
"Now isn't the time to be asking taxpayers to be spending more," Jaggi said Friday.
Supporters say the need for money just to maintain and repair the highways is paramount in a state where the highway system is an essential lifeline for residents and the economy.
Rep. Mike Madden of Buffalo is the new chairman of the House Revenue Committee. Since the Wyoming Constitution requires all revenue bills to be introduced in the House, Madden and his committee will be the principals in deciding the bill's future.
Madden, an economist, said he is optimistic about the bill's chances given that a number of the committee members were on the super committee that studied the issue and are fully informed of the need.
The super committee that also approved a bill to increase motor vehicle registration fees included members of the Joint Interim Revenue Committee and the Joint Interim Committee on Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs.
"That doesn't mean we won't have challenges," Madden said Thursday.
He said he has been speaking to groups in the Big Horn Basin as well as in Sheridan and Johnson counties and is not getting the opposition experienced in the past.
"It's nothing like it was," he said, adding that the opposition from people who are simply anti-government has diminished.
People realize Wyoming runs on roads and the Legislature has been inappropriately using the state's general fund to maintain highways, he said.
The general fund is in no position to be subsidizing the out-of-state purchasers of fuel in Wyoming, "and that's starting to resonate with people," he said.
Impact less than expected
Madden will be responsible for getting the fuel tax bill through the House.
His job is to show people that the impact of the tax will be less than they expect.
The fuel tax is paid by the supplier not the gasoline station owner, he said.
In Wyoming, 245 entities pay the fuel tax, which is considerably fewer than the number of gasoline outlets. Of the 245, only 51 are in Wyoming.
The others have addresses in Texas and Colorado among other places, and sell fuel all over the country.
If the Legislature passes the 10-cent tax, Madden said he would be surprise if the tax at the pump amounts to more than three or four cents.
"These guys just [weave] this all in," he said. "Part of that tax will be paid by people in Colorado as well as Wyoming. It's the cost of doing business."
The last fuel tax increase in 1998 resulted in one or two more cents at the pump, he said.
Although increasing the tax to 24 cents a gallon will not raise all the money needed to maintain the state's highways, that's no reason not to pass it, Madden said.
As an alternative, Gov. Matt Mead proposed diverting mineral tax money that would otherwise flow automatically into the state's permanent mineral trust fund.
Madden said that could be a supplement to raise the $134.5 million per year the Wyoming Department of Transportation estimates is needed to maintain the highways and state roads.
The new Senate president, Tony Ross of Cheyenne, said the fate of the fuel tax bill rests with the House.
"If it passes the House, it has a likelihood of passing the Senate," Ross said.