Small business lobby opposes gas tax hike, mistrusts WYDOT

Jan 10, 2013

A poll by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, lobbying group, shows that Wyoming small businesses owners oppose raising the state fuel tax.

Governor Matt Mead and other state leaders support raising the fuel tax by 10 cents per gallon to pay for overdue road improvements.

NFIB’s Wyoming State Director Tony Gagliardi says his constituents disapproved of raising a fuel tax in three separate polls, with 81 percent against it in the most recent numbers. Gagliardi attributes some of that to distrust of the Wyoming Department of Transportation.

“Several people I’ve spoken with are very concerned that this money might not be used expressively (sic) for highway construction and maintenance. It might be diverted,” says Gagliardi, adding that he’d heard WYDOT had spent road maintenance money on superfluous building projects in recent years.

Gagliardi suggested a task force be formed to investigate WYDOT’s expenses.

WYDOT Director John Cox says he’s surprised by NFIB’s suspicion, specifically because the department is regularly audited by the state Legislative Services Office and other entities. He adds that recent building construction projects were approved by the Wyoming Transportation Commission to replace very old buildings.

“I would assert that there’s no case in my time around Transportation Commission, since 1998, where the commission has approved the building of any building that wasn’t gravely needed,” Cox said, adding that the process of applying for and approving building projects is open for public review.

Cox says money from fuel taxes are protected by the Wyoming Constitution and cannot be used for purposes other than road construction, maintenance and traffic supervision.

The current state gas tax is 14 cents per gallon, with one cent going to remediate old, leaking fuel storage tanks around the state, and the rest divided among WYDOT and local government.

Wyoming NFIB Director Gagliardi says his constituents also think raising the gas tax another 10 cents could hurt small businesses.

“This recession is not over,” says Gagliardi. “And we believe that the last thing you want to do when you’re trying to stimulate a recovery is to raise taxes and to raise the costs on small businesses. You need small businesses expanding, reinvesting and… hiring for new jobs.”

Gagliardi says the issue of raising the fuel tax should be postponed and reconsidered in the future.