In the last several years, states have received fewer federal dollars for highways. During the energy boom the legislature made up for the shortfall by providing periodic funding for construction and maintenance.
But the Wyoming Department of Transportation wants long term and stable funding. After spending the summer looking at the issue, a legislative committee could only agree on one substantial plan, a ten cent increase in the state gas tax. Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck has more.
BOB BECK: State Senator John Hines of Gillette is chairman of the Senate Revenue Committee and in fact he’s been a Revenue Committee chairman for much of his legislative career. Hines is not one to support many tax hikes, but with WYDOT facing a shortfall, he’s prepared to support increasing gas taxes from 14 cents a gallon up to 24 cents.
JOHN HINES: Some people think they can be more efficient and cut down, but I think they can to a certain extent, but not for 67 million dollars and maintain what we expect them to do.
BECK: At a recent public meeting, representatives from major organizations in the state showed up and expressed their support for the tax hike. Some these are groups who are usually a bit timid when it comes to tax increases. This includes the Wyoming Mining Association, The Wyoming Restaurant and Lodging Association and the Wyoming Taxpayers Association. WTA Director Erin Taylor says they support the tax hike because they believe that a stable source of funding is needed.
ERIN TAYLOR: We march it against our cornerstones of taxation. Is there is a justified need, is it transparent, is it stable, is it equitable, does it meet these principals? And if it meets the majority of the principals we can support something like that.
BECK: But not everyone is so thrilled.
During the public hearing Cheyenne resident Victor Ciconne complained that a ten cent hike is too high for those on fixed incomes and he criticized the legislature for what he sees as a tax and spend approach. Ciconne also noted that the legislature has been putting a lot of money into savings in recent years. He suggested spending some of that money instead…
VICTOR CICONNE: If the state can rat hole money every year or every two years, why not take a percentage of that money and apply it to WYDOT funding.
The Governor said last week that the gas hike is expected to cost family of four 114 dollars a year and he added…
GOVERNOR MATT MEAD: If you raise the ten cent tax, you won’t necessarily see a ten cent increase at the pump.
BECK: Mead says that increase will likely be spread across other items that gas station sells.
However, the Wyoming Liberty Group’s Maureen Bader says there is no proof that the gas tax will be used for highways. She notes that highway revenue is currently spent on a number of things…
MAUREEN BADER: Already some goes to recreational trails, University technology transfer program, ethanol tax credits, leaky underground fuel tanks, so the increase in tax does not mean an increase in spending on roads.
BECK: State Senator Cale Case is calling for further study of the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s budget to get a better understanding of how they use money. Case says some decision making by WYDOT may have led to more spending. The department has spent a lot of money in recent years building passing lanes on two lane highways and improving how roads are built.
CALE CASE: We are wider, flatter, we have a lot more higher standards. That’s a good thing too, but that’s part of our higher costs.
BECK: But the Senator’s biggest concern is that the gas tax will not raise enough money to address the shortfall. He says the state should be pushing hard for a toll road along Interstate 80. But support for that idea has been lacking. For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Bob Beck.