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Feb 18, 2013 - The Associated Press

Mead signs fuel tax increase into law

CHEYENNE -- Gov. Matt Mead has signed a bill into law that will hike the state's fuel tax by a dime a gallon.

Mead has been pushing for a new source of funding for the Wyoming Department of Transportation since he took office two years ago. He says the state can no longer afford to subsidize the transportation department from general funds.

In remarks at Friday's signing ceremony, Mead says road maintenance will to continue to be a long-term need in the state. He says the state's highway system is vital to economic development.

The tax hike will raise about $70 million a year after it takes effect on July 1. The state transportation department will get about two thirds while local governments will get one third.

Man pleads not guilty in hotel fire

CHEYENNE -- A New Mexico man has pleaded not guilty to felony charges including arson and conspiracy in connection with the 2010 fire that heavily damaged a landmark hotel in Cheyenne.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal on Friday set bond at $1 million cash for 51-year-old Ajay Jariwala, of Albuquerque.

A federal indictment charges Jariwala was an officer in the company that bought the Hitching Post Inn in Cheyenne for just over $1 million in 2010. The indictment says Jariwala took out a $13.6 million insurance policy on the hotel before the fire.

The indictment charges that Jariwala hired another New Mexico man to torch the building for insurance money. The insurance company has refused to pay on the policy, saying the fire was arson. Freudenthal has set trial for April 15.

Rig count up by one in state

HOUSTON -- Oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. says the number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. rose by three this week to 1,762.

The Houston-based company said in its weekly report Friday that 1,337 rigs were actively exploring for oil and 421 for gas. Four were listed as miscellaneous. A year ago, Baker Hughes counted 1,994 working rigs.

Of the major oil- and gas-producing states Texas gained 14 rigs and Wyoming one. Pennsylvania declined by five rigs. Oklahoma lost two and Arkansas, Louisiana, North Dakota and West Virginia were down one each. Alaska, Colorado, California and New Mexico were unchanged.

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