CHEYENNE — Wyoming lawmakers approved a lodging tax on Thursday by a voice vote, giving their seal of approval to one of the few taxes that has gained the support of Gov. Mark Gordon.
The bill now heads to committee, where it will be worked before returning to the floor for second reading.
If passed, the legislation — which has gained the blessing of industry after nearly two years of work in committee — would impose a 5 percent sales tax on things like hotels and campgrounds, revenues many hoped would have allowed the state’s Department of Tourism to be funded at a competitive level.
Those proceeds would benefit both local governments as well as a statewide promotional campaign that — in the Department of Tourism’s new strategy — emphasizes regions between Yellowstone and Devils Tower. Increasing tourism funding through a lodging tax, proponents say, could save nearly $20 million per year in the state’s general fund while simultaneously helping to bolster economic development in the state’s traditionally overlooked communities.
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In the words of Rep. Andy Schwartz, D-Jackson, it would also allow one of the state’s largest industries to step up and replace revenues lost by the energy sector.
Currently, Wyoming funds its tourism at a significantly lower rate than surrounding states, which proponents of the bill say has put Wyoming at a competitive disadvantage.
Though 85 percent of the tax would be paid by out-of-state residents, some, like Rep. Garry Piiparinen, argued that it would be an undue tax on people who travel throughout the state. However, the tax would be equivalent to 3 cents on the dollar — a small and infrequently paid sum that could generate nearly $15 million per year, according to the bill’s fiscal note.
Those numbers did not move members like Mark Jennings, R-Gillette, or Tim Salazar, R-Riverton, who said the people of Wyoming were already taxed enough.
Those in favor of the bill said this was revenue the state couldn’t afford to miss out on.
“This is a reasonable way to make some revenue,” said Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander.