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February 07, 2013 8:42 am

EDITORIAL: Looking down the road to higher fuel tax

Written by Ilene Olson

It looks like the options still available to Wyoming legislators to increase highway funding are down to one: A 10-cent fuel tax hike.

A compromise bill that would have eased the first four years of the proposed fuel tax hike died on the Wyoming Senate floor Monday.

Senate File 109 called for phasing in the 10-cent fuel tax needed to help pay costs of needed highway maintenance by supplementing it with mineral tax money for the first four years.

The bill would have used about $150 million in severance tax dollars to help pay for maintenance projects on state highways and roads in counties and municipalities.

But the Senate chose to keep that money flowing into the state’s Permanent Wyoming Mineral Trust Fund instead.

Sen. Ray Petersen, R-Cowley, was among the bill’s supporters.

“I can’t go back to my constituents and say basically, ‘Allow us to save, and we’re going to tax you,’’’ he said during debate on the issue, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported.

Also supporting the compromise measure was Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody.

But they were among the minority; the bill failed on a 22-8 vote.

Other alternate highway funding proposals also have failed, including Interstate 80 tolling and increasing vehicle license fees.

That leaves House Bill 69, which would increase fuel taxes in the state by 10 cents per gallon. HB 69 passed the House on a vote of 35-24, with Reps. Blevins, Harvey and Krone voting for it and Rep. David Northrup voting against. The Senate Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee approved the bill 4-1, and it was waiting for first reading on the Senate floor as of Wednesday.

According to the Casper Star-Tribune, Senate leaders expect HB to pass.

While it is disappointing that the bill to phase in the fuel tax increase was defeated, the fuel tax increase is needed, nonetheless. As Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper put it, “We’ve got a mess in our highway finance.”

And there’s a mess waiting to happen on our state’s highways if the Wyoming Department of Transportation doesn’t have the funding to perform needed maintenance and repairs. Federal highway funding has decreased and maintenance and construction costs have increased, making it impossible for the department to keep up with the increasing maintenance needs.

The department estimates it will take $134 million per year just to maintain highways in their current condition, according to the Casper Star-Tribune.

HB 69 would provide roughly a third of that. The bill would generate about $71.8 million per year in additional revenue for highways and roads. Of that total, $47.4 million would go to the Wyoming Department of Transportation to maintain highways, $16.4 million for county roads and $6.7 million for city roads and $1.2 million for state parks.

Wyoming’s current tax of 14 cents per gallon for gasoline and diesel is the lowest among surrounding states. The last time it increased was in 1998.

Perhaps it would be more palatable if the tax had increased incrementally along with the increased cost of construction.

If passed, HB 69 will mean an increase in the cost of fuel. However, some experts say that cost will go down over time, since our neighboring states have fuel taxes that are equally as high.

But the good news is that it also will mean the Department of Transportation, as well as cities, towns and counties, will have more money to make needed repairs and keep our transportation system safe.


  • Comment Link February 07, 2013 9:06 am posted by Salty Dawg

    Tax & spend? In a sour economy? Only the RINO's in Wyoming would do that.We get to pay now for them stealing money (excuse me re-appropriated) from highway maintenance funds to pay for all the new school,many that were not really needed,especially in Powell.Perhaps you people who have been voting for these tax & spend clowns should take a long hard look in the mirror as to why you like being taxed even more.

  • Comment Link February 07, 2013 11:10 am posted by clipstein

    you put the fuel tax and it will create a mess in pork county, powell and cody along with several other counties..Good ole Montana will be laughing all the way to the bank...it will further erode business along the border... Common sense and thinking are not on the agenda only spend, spend and waste..

  • Comment Link February 08, 2013 10:51 am posted by clipstein

    It will mean less business done locally.. this in turns means less inventory and higher prices for what is left in Powell and Cody. It would seem that people would learn... the last one cent increase in sales tax shoved a lot of business to Billings.. Of course the ones pushing are already going there and try to tell you to buy locally.. How sweet it is I will do what I want to but you listen to me attitude

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