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A perspective on the increased fuel tax

Posted: Tuesday, Jan 22nd, 2013


Stan Cooper


I find it interesting, at this time of economic downturn in our state, that your state legislature is bent on increasing taxes to the residents of our state in the form of a 10 cent increase per gallon in fuel tax — especially in light of the fact that the cost of our basic needs in life have increased to the point that we have lost around 40 percent of our purchasing power over the past three years.

Things like the cost of food, clothing, transportation and utilities have all gone up. This particularly affects our senior citizens who are on fixed incomes, and along with many workers who have not received a pay increase in several years, including our state employees.

I also find it interesting that this tax is largely being pushed through the legislature by huge lobbying efforts and support by the oil, natural gas and mining industries in our state. Industry representatives justify their lobbying efforts in the media by saying that Wyoming residents are not paying their fair share of the tax burden. What a statement of insult to the people of Wyoming! Their idea of “fair” means you pay “more” taxes.

The average wage earner in Wyoming works around five to six months a year to pay their federal, state and local taxes, so then I guess the question is — how much is fair? Increased fuel costs are an expense that is written off by industry and are simply passed on to consumers. With this tax you’ll pay the increased cost of products, and at the same time pay an additional tax at the fuel pump — a “double dip” to the consumers. I recently told an industry leader that he needed to give me his email address so that I could forward all of his company employees’ emails that complain about the tax!

The Wyoming Association of Counties and the Wyoming Association of Municipalities have also jumped on the band wagon to support the tax increase. One could probably see their perspective because they stand to gain from an increase in the distribution of tax revenue from the additional fuel tax. But for the life of me — I’m having a difficult time figuring out why the Wyoming Stock Growers Association would support a direct increase of 10 cents per gallon on fuel to the ranchers in the state. Their ability to pass on this increase in operational cost is minimal, if at all possible.

Some supporters of the tax say that about 50 percent of the tax will be paid by non-residents traveling through the state. Testimony to the legislative Transportation Committee on this subject proved to be only theoretical and elusive in fact. However, setting that theory aside, why would we want to punish our own citizens with higher taxes just so we can maybe pick up a few extra dollars from the travelers passing through our state?

There is no doubt that roads are essential to Wyoming’s economy, and we could probably use some more revenue being channeled into roads, but there are many other ways to accomplish this without increasing taxes. But, when you think about it — when is the last time you remember driving over a really bad piece of “state” highway?

Our state revenue streams are structured in a way that we have funds flowing into any number of coffee cans, as legislators call them, for reserves. These reserve accounts are to be distinguished between savings accounts, which are a totally different category of funds that are set aside as income-generating accounts. Reserve accounts are used to cover shortfalls in revenue.

There is another way of resolving the need for increased funding to highways through the use of funds from one of those coffee cans that I mentioned earlier. The legislature can direct some of the severance tax revenue into our road funds. In this way, we can fund the same amount of dollars to state highways, city streets and county roads, and won’t need to increase taxes on any one. I presented a bill to do this — SF-109 — to the Senate Revenue Committee last week, and at this point the bill is still active in the committee.

HB 69 has now passed the House and is on its way over to the Senate. The people need to voice their opinion to your legislators on this bill, whether or not you oppose it or support it. My emails from the general public are running heavily in opposition, but industry lobbyists have the skids well-greased to move this tax increase through the legislature.











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