Yellowstone tax proposal fails, may be dropped

Posted 2/16/12

A proposed bill that would have created a new one-penny sales tax in Yellowstone fell two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to introduce and consider the legislation this session.

“I’m not sure if I’ll continue with the idea,” …

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Yellowstone tax proposal fails, may be dropped


Years ago, a group of folks in Cody came up with the idea of instituting an additional 1-cent sales tax in Yellowstone National Park to pay for improvements to and maintenance of the park’s roads, sewer systems and other infrastructure.

The idea didn’t gain traction then, and a revival of the concept didn’t fare much better in the Wyoming Legislature on Tuesday.

A proposed bill that would have created a new one-penny sales tax in Yellowstone fell two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to introduce and consider the legislation this session.

“I’m not sure if I’ll continue with the idea,” said the bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, in an interview after the vote.

“There was a lot of opposition to it, just the belief that Yellowstone isn’t really a part of Wyoming” and that it’s a federal issue, Gingery said.

There was only brief discussion of the concerns with the bill on the floor of the state House of Representatives Tuesday.

“Given our relationship and the history of our relationship with the federal government, what prevents them from now looking at this stream of funding in Yellowstone and saying, ‘Oh good. Now we can reduce our funding for infrastructue in Yellowstone because Wyoming is now going to come and be the infrastructure funder for Yellowstone National Park’?” asked Rep. Timothy Stubson, R-Casper.

Gingery responded that the estimated $300,000 to $500,000 worth of revenue generated by the tax would be “way less than what they (park managers) need.”

The Park Service says it has a $750 million backlog of projects in Yellowstone needed “to bring the entire infrastructure up to a maintainable condition,” according to a January briefing statement obtained by the Jackson Hole News and Guide.

Gingery said the proposed tax was a way of showing the National Park Service that the state of Wyoming is willing to be a partner with them — noting that Teton, and especially Park, counties heavily rely on a good relationship with Yellowstone managers.

“What this was showing is that we have some skin in the game,” Gingery said. “So I’m not sure that this is actually going to contribute a lot to it (Yellowstone maintenance needs), but at least it helps Park County — particularly when they’re trying to negotiate the East Entrance staying open, Beartooth Highway maintenance.”

A total of 22 legislators voted no on the proposal, including Stubson and local Rep. Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell.

“I voted no because we don’t have the resources to maintain our state highways as it is,” said Harvey in a Wednesday email. “We don’t own the Park and I don’t want the feds to think they don’t have the responsibility to fix and build their own infrastructure.”

Another 38 legislators voted aye to introduce, including Park County’s representatives; the measure was co-sponsored by a group of Yellowstone-area legislators: Rep. Sam Krone, R-Cody, and Sens. Hank Coe, R-Cody, Leland Christensen, R-Alta and Dan Dockstader, R-Afton. However, Coe, Krone and Christensen all indicated in media interviews that they had some trepidation about ultimately passing the tax.

Gingery conceded during his floor statement on the bill that “we already collect quite a lot of taxes out of Yellowstone.”

In addition to the 4 percent state sales tax, Teton County currently collects a 1 percent general purpose tax and a 1 percent specific purpose tax. There’s an additional 2 percent tax on lodging, for an effective 8 percent tax rate.

In Park County, the sales tax rate is currently at 4 percent. There’s another 4 percent tax on lodging.

On top of those taxes, park concessionaires are allowed to assess an additional utility fee on sales. The pass-through fee allows concessionaires to recover utility costs.

During the budget session, legislators sometimes vote no on some bills on the general principle that the lawmakers’ focus should be soley on the budget and it’s more difficult to get bills introduced. Theoretically, some bills that fail this session may succeed in the general legislative session next year.

“We’ll talk about it again this summer and see what we can do,” Gingery said in the interview, but, “There just wasn’t a lot of people really excited about it, so I think it might meet the same fate next year.”

He said future discussions might need to discuss a reality that Yellowstone may not be able to provide visitors with the same level of services as it has in recent times.

Editor's note: This version adds the comments from Rep. Harvey, received after press time Wednesday.