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Wyoming fuel tax proposal advances
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Wyoming fuel tax proposal advances

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Interstate 80

Traffic flows along Interstate 80 past piles of debris from an earlier crash in April 2015 in Laramie County. Wyoming lawmakers are advancing a fuel tax.

A chain reaction touched off by the coronavirus pandemic has pushed new-vehicle prices to record highs and dramatically driven up the cost of used ones.

After more than a year of work, a committee of Wyoming lawmakers advanced a proposed 9-cent increase to Wyoming’s fuel tax Tuesday, setting the stage for what will likely be an uphill battle on the unpopular tax hike as it heads to the full Legislature next month.

As proposed, the 9-cent increase to would be phased in over three years and bring Wyoming’s 24-cent fuel tax in line with states like Nebraska (34 cents), Montana (33 cents) and Idaho (33 cents), while generating an additional $62 million in revenue for the state’s highways in its first year, according to a fiscal note.

That revenue is much needed: according to estimates provided by the Wyoming Department of Transportation last year, the agency — which is funded off of the state’s general fund — is currently facing a funding shortfall of roughly $354 million, including $103 million short of what is needed to preserve the state’s roads and bridges.

“Our ability to satisfactorily maintain our roads has declined due to inflation,” WYDOT Director Luke Reiner told committee members.

While deemed as necessary by the WYDOT — and embraced by industry — the tax itself is a regressive one, and has proven unpopular with the public as well as groups like the National Federation of Independent Business, which reported 58% of its membership in opposition of the bill.

Rep. Mark Baker, R-Green River, told his fellow committee members that the proposal was panned when he put the question to his constituents. He later proposed an amendment to apply the tax solely to diesel, saying that only those who supported the tax — like a contractors’ group — should be paying it.

That idea failed to catch on, and the amendment was later withdrawn.

“If you’re going to use the roads, you should be paying for it,” Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, said.

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