CHEYENNE — An effort to create a 5 percent lodging tax to promote Wyoming tourism died Monday in the Legislature, stumbling in a final vote before it would have proceeded to the governor.
The bill represented one of the few proposals to raise revenue in a Legislature that’s notoriously anti-tax. Backers saw it as a way to ensure that tourism efforts are promoted even during economic downturns.
The tax had cleared the Wyoming House with relative ease and had significant industry support in the lead-up to Monday’s vote.
The final vote was 7-19. Four lawmakers — Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne; Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper; Sen. Fred Baldwin, R-Kemmerer; and Sen. Jeff Wasserburger, R-Gillette — changed their votes from “aye” to “no” after it was apparent the bill would fail.
Three lawmakers in the hospitality industry — Sen. Liisa Anselmi-Dalton, D-Rock Springs; Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander; and Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devil’s Tower — did not vote, citing conflicts of interest.
If passed, the bill would have generated an estimated $19.5 million annually for the state’s tourism sector by 2021. Of that, 80 percent would have gone directly to the Department of Tourism, effectively shielding it from the threat of budget cuts during bust periods, which is when tourism promotion is most needed in Wyoming, supporters said. The remaining 20 percent would have been deposited into a special projects account.
Critics, however, argued the bill would affect more than out-of-state visitors. They said it would also hit the pocketbooks of Wyomingites traveling for sports tournaments or to visit their families in other parts of the state.
After energy, tourism is one of the state’s biggest economic drivers. According to the Wyoming Office of Tourism, visitors spent an estimated $3.8 billion in Wyoming last year, and the industry employed more than 32,000 people — roughly 5 percent of the state’s total population.
The bill’s defeat marks the final death knell for any significant revenue options for Wyoming this year: of all the tax bills proposed for Wyoming in the 2019 session, none passed, even while the state’s financial reports have indicated the state will be facing diminishing revenues from the state’s legacy industries, like oil and gas, in the future.