Wenk conveyed that for a lot of the things the legislators want to see happen, “he just doesn’t have any money,” Gingery recalled.
So, Gingery revived an idea brought up years ago — to impose a 1-cent sales tax within Yellowstone’s boundaries to be used only on park infrastructure.
On Monday, he cited concern with roads that aren’t up to par and the importance of maintaining sewer systems — as Yellowstone is “the last place you want to dump raw sewage.”
The proposed tax wouldn’t raise that much money, he said, perhaps $500,000 a year.
State Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, also met with Wenk last year as a part of a “Yellowstone Caucus” group that includes Gingery, Rep. Sam Krone, R-Cody, Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, and Sen. Leland Christensen, R-Alta.
“Conceptually, I do support the bill because basically it’s almost like a user fee,” Coe said Monday, describing the proposal as having the visitors who use the infrastructure pay for it. He said Yellowstone “obviously” has infrastructure needs.
Coe said he will decide whether to sign onto Gingery’s bill after getting to Cheyenne for the Legislative Budget Session next week.
“I’m still thinking about it because of what’s going on this year with some of our revenues and those kind of things,” he said.
Krone did not immediately return messages left Monday afternoon.
Yellowstone Park spokesman Al Nash said he wasn’t familiar enough with the proposal to comment on it, but speaking generally, he said money for park infrastructure can be hard to come by.
“Over the years, Yellowstone has done reasonably well when it comes to funding for infrastructure or operating budgets, but we certainly have needs that are not currently being met,” Nash said, adding, “There is a lot of demand for those hard-earned taxpayer dollars across the federal Park Service and across all federal agencies.”
He said the park has a “significant” backlog of needed work.
As laid out in the bill, the tax would be assessed only within Yellowstone National Park’s boundaries in Wyoming, and the money could only be used on projects like sewers, water systems, roads, bridges and trails, Gingery said. Concessionaires could not use the money.
“They couldn’t use it to re-do the kitchen at Old Faithful or something ... It would have to be the true infrastructure,” Gingery said.
Unlike optional 1-cent taxes that must be approved by a county’s voters, this tax — like the 4 percent statewide sales tax — would take effect upon passage by the Legislature, Gingery said.
“It would just be imposed,” Gingery said, adding that most permanent Yellowstone residents don’t shop in the park.
Although the land is federally owned and managed by the National Park Service, Yellowstone lies within Park and Teton counties. Park County’s northern portion includes Mammoth Hot Springs, Canyon Village, Fishing Bridge, Norris and Tower-Roosevelt.
Facilities in Yellowstone currently assess Wyoming’s standard 4 percent tax rate on sales. The money is split between the state and local governments. The additional cent, as proposed, would be collected by the state and given entirely to the Park Service.
Coe called the odds of the sales tax bill passing this budget session — where a bill needs two-thirds approval to be introduced — “marginal,” but said it’s “probably good to have the discussion.” He said the idea was proposed in Cody, unsuccessfully, about 15 years ago.
Gingery said he doesn’t know what his fellow legislators will think of it.
“Even if it doesn’t pass, what it shows Yellowstone is that we’re willing to be a partner with them,” and that “the state of Wyoming, we have some skin in the game, too,” Gingery said. He said legislators realize that Yellowstone is “our bread and butter” for tourism.