Sen. French looks to address EVs, investments and property taxes

Posted 12/15/22

With hundreds of bills drafted and infighting already underway, the Wyoming Legislature’s 2023 General Session is shaping up to be busy and potentially heated.

“It’ll be …

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Sen. French looks to address EVs, investments and property taxes


With hundreds of bills drafted and infighting already underway, the Wyoming Legislature’s 2023 General Session is shaping up to be busy and potentially heated.

“It’ll be interesting,” said Sen. Tim French, R-Powell, “because people are already mad down there.”

For his part, French has been focusing on the money coming into the state’s coffers. As he enters his third year in the Senate, French said he’s working on two potential bills. One is intended to ensure drivers of electric vehicles pay their fair share of road maintenance costs. Another would increase the amount of money the state socks away in investments.


Electric vehicle tax

Whether it’s a matter of years or decades, French sees electric vehicles eventually surpassing the number of combustible engines on Wyoming’s roads. He wants to be ready for that flip-flop by having adequate taxes on EVs.

Much of the money used to maintain federal and state highways comes from fuel taxes, which also assist county road and bridge projects. Drivers currently pay taxes totaling about 42 cents per gallon of gasoline (24 cents from the state and 18.4 cents from the federal government). Based on the Energy Information Administration’s 2018 estimates, Wyoming drivers burn through about 552 gallons of gas annually, paying about $234 a year in fuel taxes.

Drivers of EVs are assessed a fairly similar $200 road maintenance fee when they renew their registrations in Wyoming. However, Yellowstone-bound tourists and other EV drivers just passing through the state effectively avoid any fuel taxes or fees.

“They’re tearing up our roads, and they’re paying nothing towards that maintenance of our roads. So we have to address that somehow,” French said. “And I’m trying to figure that out.”

The senator’s current idea is to assess a surcharge on electric charging stations, but he said the issue may need to be studied in more depth by the Legislature’s transportation committee and addressed in the 2024 Budget Session.

“[I] at least hopefully can start the conversation with people,” French said.


Reinvesting proceeds

In another forward-looking proposal, French wants to take 5%-10% of the revenue generated by the investments in the state’s $8.9 billion Permanent Mineral Trust Fund and reinvest those dollars. In other words, the Legislature would get less cash now to ideally generate significantly larger returns in the future.

The trust fund provides a big chunk of the state’s revenue, becoming even more important as the minerals industry — which has long been the backbone of Wyoming’s tax base — has come under pressure from market forces and the federal government.

“We need to grow that thing, cuz what happens if they’re successful in the next five years, 10 years, 15, of killing coal, oil and gas? Then what?” French asked rhetorically. “So I just want to stuff as much money as possible into that trust fund, because maybe by then it’s 50% of the state’s revenue.”

The senator said Wyoming needs to “fight back as hard as we can” against federal restrictions, but said it’s tough to combat the “huge impact” of the rules promulgated by various agencies.


Property taxes

The “big dog in the room,” French added, is Wyoming property taxes. As real estate prices have skyrocketed in recent years, residents have been feeling the pinch of higher taxes — and have been calling on lawmakers to do something.

French said he’s looking at a proposal from Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, that would effectively tie a resident’s taxes to what they originally paid for their property. But he wonders about the feasibility of that approach, recalling how the price of a road grader more than quadrupled during his 18 years as a Park County commissioner.

“If your revenue to run the county and municipalities is frozen, or almost frozen, and everything’s going up like that — plumbing supplies, labor costs are going up fast — how are you going to deal with that?” French asked.

He tends to favor capping the increase in property taxes at somewhere between 0% and 10% a year, letting counties decide which percentage works best.

All of those ideas are among hundreds of bills that will be filed in a jam-packed 37-day session. The Legislature’s upper chamber appears poised to open its proceedings with some tension, after incoming Senate President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, refused to seat incoming Sen. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, on any of the body’s primary committees. French called Driskill’s decision unfair and “not good government.”

“You got to sometimes keep your private arguments with people private and do the right thing,” French said. “We’re elected by the people to go down to Cheyenne and do the best we can for the people.”

French, who represents Senate District 18, will sit on the Senate’s revenue and agriculture committee in the 67th Wyoming Legislature. The General Session convenes Jan. 10.