State lawmakers are considering a new measure that would impose a 5 percent lodging tax statewide, with the funds going to the Wyoming Office of Tourism. The goal of the new tax would be to ensure a steady stream of funds for promoting tourism throughout the state, an effort normally paid for through the general fund.
Because the general fund is subject to the whims of the energy industry, when budgets are being slashed, tourism budgets are always in danger of being reduced. This is counterproductive during times when income from our number two industry – tourism – is most crucial.
The 5 percent tax would eliminate the uncertainty and keep funding for tourism promotion consistent. So when our primary industry is struggling, tourism can continue to help supplement state and local economies.
The tax wouldn’t hurt our state’s most vulnerable populations, like a regressive tax might. Out of town visitors, or residents traveling within the state, would be able to choose if the cost increase was worth it, and adjust their plans accordingly. In other words, it’s taxing a want, rather than a need.
A statewide lodging tax would simply be an extension of what some individual communities already use to fund tourism. Several towns and cities have lodging taxes in place, in which case the statewide tax would not apply until the local one expires.
Of course, there are areas in the state, notably the Jackson and Yellowstone areas, that don’t really need help appealing to tourists. So we would urge the tourism office to use the additional funds generated from the tax to promote all of Wyoming’s tourism opportunities, not just the most famous ones. Of the funds collected from the lodging tax, approximately 40 percent would be distributed to local tourism offices, and that would likely help on this front.
Most Wyomingites aren’t looking for tax-based solutions to revenue problems. But this particular measure would help keep the tourism industry self-sustaining. It’s important to remember that tourism employs roughly 32,000 residents — about 5 percent of the statewide population. Last year, visitors spent an estimated $3.8 billion here. As tourism booms, so do jobs and the lives of thousands of residents.
Wyoming’s economic troubles won’t disappear until our primary source of revenue isn’t perpetually booming and then busting. In the meantime, it’s vital that we preserve the other industries that help keep the state afloat during difficult times. The lodging tax is a step in that direction.