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August 28, 2012 7:50 am

EDITORIAL: The cost of highway improvement

Written by Tessa Schweigert

Legislators consider fuel tax, drivers in Wyoming may pay more at the pump

We know that Wyoming’s roads can’t be paved with good intentions. For years, there’s been talk of the need for highway maintenance, but little action to adequately fund it.

That’s why it’s encouraging to see lawmakers moving toward another source for highway funding. Last week, the Joint Revenue Interim Committee approved a draft bill calling to increase the fuel tax by 10 cents per gallon, according to the Casper Star-Tribune. Registration fees for vehicles also would increase under the proposal.

Earlier this summer, the Wyoming Taxpayers Association said a fuel tax is a good tax. For one thing, the group noted that the Wyoming Department of Transportation is short $135 million per year. Without increased funding, 82 percent of Wyoming’s roadways will be in poor condition by 2030.

“Poor roads equate to more wear and tear on our vehicles — and that becomes personal,” wrote Erin Taylor, executive director of the Wyoming Taxpayers Association. “Ask yourself, what are you willing to do to have better highways?”

Currently, Wyoming’s state tax is 14 cents per gallon for gasoline and diesel, making it the second lowest in the nation. The proposed increase would bring the state’s tax to 24 cents per gallon. For gasoline, the federal tax is 18.4 cents, which is added to the state’s tax.

That new 24-cent rate could bring an additional $71.9 million annually, mostly for road construction and maintenance by the Wyoming Department of Transportation, counties, and municipalities, according to the Star-Tribune.

While legislators still have the final say during next year’s session, it’s a step toward a solution.

Without a steady source of adequate funding, Wyoming’s highways will continue to deteriorate.

For years, leaders in the Wyoming Department of Transportation and state lawmakers have stressed the pressing need.

“The bottom line is that state roadways are deteriorating at a faster rate than we have the ability to fix based on current revenue,” said Jay Gould, a WYDOT district engineer, in 2010.

Gov. Matt Mead has said doing nothing is not an option.

“Whatever option or combination of options that they look at, as painful and distasteful as they are, to do nothing and say we’re going to continue to take out of the general fund, is to say, ‘we’re going to fund roads, but we’re not going to continue to fund education. We’re going to fund roads, but we’re not going to fund health care. Or we’re going to fund roads, but we’re not going to fund something else,’” Mead told The Associated Press.

We understand a fuel tax increase hasn’t been popular with voters or lawmakers, who have nixed previous proposals. However, we also challenge opponents of the tax increase to come up with a better solution. Wyoming’s highways — crucial to agriculture, tourism, the energy industries and day-to-day life here — must be funded. It won’t happen with good intentions. Wyoming can’t risk going down that road.

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