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Fuel tax legislation advances to House

Jan 15, 2013 - By Christina George, Staff Writer

A bill that would raise the state's fuel tax by 10 cents per gallon will advance to the Wyoming House of Representatives after a Joint Revenue Interim Committee voted 7-2 in favor of the legislation Monday.

Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, said he is leaning toward supporting the bill, which raises the tax from 14 cents to 24 cents. The goal is to collect funds for the state's highway system.

"I think that we really are giving a discount to out-of-state drivers who drive from one end of the state to the other," Larsen said.

The Associated Press reported Gov. Matt Mead is pushing for the tax increase, which would raise more than $70 million a year for state and local road projects. Mead has emphasized that out-of-state motorists would foot much of the bill for maintaining the state's highway system.

Larsen also likes how a "good share" of funds raised would come back to cities and counties for road needs.

"The bottom line is we need to take care of infrastructure," he said.

Larsen is concerned the bill only takes care of about half of what the Wyoming Department of Transportation says it needs to maintain highways.

He also is interested in other proposals on the table, including trying to add an extra portion of a tax to trucks that use the interstate.

But not all Fremont County legislators favor the tax.

Rep. David Miller, R-Riverton, said he opposes the legislation because it will "increase everyone's taxes."

Miller said he is against it at this time but will listen to testimony and debate on the House floor.

"Right now, I am a solid no," he said Monday.

"Wyoming people must drive a lot for work (and) school," Miller continued. "This would add additional burden.We need to figure out a better way to pay for the use of our road, primarily I-80, the most expensive road in the state."

Miller said he would favor some way to tax the cross-state traffic of interstate trucks that don't deliver or pickup goods in Wyoming.

Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said he thinks the bill will ultimately pass, but he remains against it.

"I still would like to see them really investigate alternative ways of funding highways," Case said.

One way, Case said, could be a toll system on I-80, for which he has sponsored a bill.

The Associated Press reported the committee vote Monday came after two hours of testimony, much of it from industry and local government officials who said that although nobody likes paying higher taxes, they believe the time has come for the state to bite the bullet on highway funding.

"A Band-Aid fix is really what the state has been doing over the past five or six biennial budgets," said Roy Cohee, whose family runs an oilfield trucking business in Casper.

Cohee, a former Wyoming house speaker, said his business employs about 60 people and logs about 2 million miles a year delivering drilling and mining equipment.

"The roads could be crumbling years from now if a reasonable $70 to $80 million isn't put into them now," he said.

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