CHEYENNE -- A 10-cent increase in the state fuel tax cleared its final vote in the Wyoming Senate on Thursday and now heads to Gov. Matt Mead for signing.
Mead has said he favors a tax hike as a means to create a steady revenue stream for highway and road repairs and construction. The state tax on gasoline and diesel would jump from 14 to 24 cents on July 1.
The Senate approved House Bill 69 on an 18-12 roll-call vote after a lively third debate. The legislation previously passed the House.
The increase is estimated to raise about $71 million for the 2014 fiscal year. Approximately $47 million would go toward state highways, $16 million for county roads, $6.7 million for city and town roads, and $1.2 million for state parks, including such things as road, boat ramp, off-road and snowmobile trail maintenance.
Wyoming families can expect to pay an additional $114 per year for fuel on average, according to state estimates.
Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, strongly opposed the bill during Thursday's debate, saying the legislation had been heavily lobbied for by a number of "commercial interests."
A pro-fuel tax hike coalition of 18 organizations led by the Wyoming Taxpayers Association included the mineral, trucking, tourism and ranching industries as well as the Wyoming Association of Municipalities and the Wyoming Association of County Commissioners.
Scott said his constituents were opposed to the tax two-to-one on grounds they cannot afford to pay more taxes in the current economy.
They also have a "sense that they were being ripped off," he said, because they have heard about the billions of dollars the state has in reserves and they question why the state needs more tax money.
Scott said the real problem is the trucking industry has not been paying its fair share since the repeal of the per-ton-mile tax.
"I don't think we should raise the tax on people until we raise the tax on the industry that is causing the problem," he said.
Scott also cited Wyoming Department of Transportation projects that he said make little sense, like a sidewalk built in Casper that ends at a railroad overpass.
He also called WYDOT-engineered traffic circles "inventions of the devil."
"I have driven places that have those and I don't want to see those in Wyoming," he said.
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Senate Majority Floor Leader Phil Nicholas countered by saying a bill moving this session would put the budgets of WYDOT and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department under legislative scrutiny.
The Laramie Republican said the regional nature of the gasoline market means that by having lower fuel taxes than its neighboring states, Wyoming has subsidized lower prices in the other states. He said the state hasn't seen its lower tax rate reflected in lower pump prices at Wyoming filling stations.
"We all have constituents who frankly believe that they should pay no taxes -- that the mining industry, oil and gas, and coal should pay for everything," Nicholas said.
Sen. Curt Meier, R-LaGrange, said the estimated $114 tax increase for an average family doesn't account for the higher cost of every product that is delivered by truck.
The state, he said, shouldn't be increasing a tax at a time when the nation is edging out of a recession.
He also said the tax isn't a user fee.
"This tax bill is the cars subsidizing the trucking industry,” Meier said.
After the vote, Sheila Foertsch, executive director of the Wyoming Trucking Association, said the ton-mile tax was repealed because it was difficult to administer for the state and the carriers and was burdensome to collect and audit.
When it was repealed, she added, registration fees for trucks were increased and now are the 13th-highest in the country.
The state receives a portion of a per-mile fee for every carrier that moves through the state, as well as fuels tax based on the miles traveled in the state.
"We feel we do pay our fair share," Foertsch said.
"We have trouble with the notion that highway vehicles damage the roads," she said.
If a company has a heavier vehicle, that vehicle must have more axles to distribute the weight evenly, Foertsch said.
She also said that companies tend to register their vehicles at the heaviest weight but they travel empty half the time.
"It's a question of wear versus damage," she said.
Contact capital bureau reporter Joan Barron at 307-632-1244 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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