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Senate committee endorses Wyoming fuel tax hike

Senate committee endorses Wyoming fuel tax hike

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CHEYENNE — A proposal to raise the state fuel tax by 10 cents per gallon moved closer to reality Wednesday when a Senate committee voted 4-1 in favor the legislation.

The next stop for House Bill 69 will be the Senate floor for debate. The bill previously passed the House on a 35-24 vote.

The bill would generate about $71.8 million per year in additional revenue. Of that total, $47.4 million would go to the Wyoming Department of Transportation to maintain highways, $16.4 million to county roads, $6.7 million to city roads and $1.2 million to groom snowmobile trails.

The department has estimated it needs $134 million a year just to maintain highways in their current condition.

The tax increase is a priority of Gov. Matt Mead and legislative leaders.

Wyoming’s current tax of 14 cents per gallon for gasoline and diesel is the lowest among surrounding states and hasn’t been raised since 1998.

A public hearing Wednesday afternoon before the Senate Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee drew the same group of proponents and opponents as it had when the bill was in a House committee.

Supporters included a coalition of 17 organizations led by the Wyoming Taxpayers Association, the Wyoming Association of County Commissioners, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, the Wyoming Travel Coalition, the Wyoming Trucking Association and the Wyoming Mining Association.

Erin Taylor, director of the Wyoming Taxpayers Association, said she was aware that senators have been receiving a lot of emails from opponents of the tax increase.

The fuel tax, she said, passes the “gut check” because it is fair, equitable and transparent.

“People don’t like the gas tax but they understand the need,” said Jim Willox, a Converse County commissioner.

The bill as it stands requires the department to segregate the money collected from the additional 10-cent hike and use it only for road maintenance and repair.

Dan Neal, director of the Equality State Policy Center, said the increase would hit low-income people especially hard.

As an option to make the increase less regressive for the working poor, Neal suggested the state adopt a tax rebate program like the federal income tax credit program.

“It would make the system more fair,” Neal said.

The committee took no action on Neal’s idea, or on a suggestion from Sen. Leslie Nutting, R-Cheyenne, to adopt a higher tax increase and adjust it for inflation.

Sen. Stan Cooper, R-Kemmerer, cast the only no vote on the bill.

Contact capital bureau reporter Joan Barron at 307-632-1244 or joan.barron@trib.com

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