Fuel tax boost sought in Wyoming

| 12/19/2006

Could tolls along I-80 also be in the works?

A Wyoming legislative panel has endorsed legislation that would increase the state's fuel tax by a nickel per gallon. They also want to offer a price break on motor vehicle registrations.

However, Gov. Dave Freudenthal said he is against higher taxes.

The Joint Revenue Interim Committee voted 7-4 to offer a bill during the upcoming regular session that would generate about $34 million annually by charging higher state taxes on gasoline and diesel. More than $22 million would be earmarked for state roadways, The Associated Press reported.

The proposal also would reduce residents' annual registration fees by about $120 on newer vehicles and $45 on older models.

Fewer dollars from registration fees would mean about $25 million a year less for education, The AP reported. The bill, however, would restore the bulk of that amount with money from the state school foundation fund.

Sen. Jayne Mockler, D-Cheyenne, the bill's sponsor, said the foundation fund is faring well because of increased mineral revenue.

Freudenthal said he would prefer lawmakers endorse the proposal he offered in his budget to direct $162 million for highways. The Legislature early this year earmarked that money for permanent savings, The AP reported.

The Joint Appropriations Committee this month endorsed trimming the governor's request for highway money down to $98 million. The panel wants the money taken from the state's general fund.

Another idea to help pay for needed roadwork has been offered by Rep. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette. He is interested in adding tolls to Interstate 80 - a move that would require federal approval.

"We're a state of very small population . so we're taking care of 400-plus miles of main artery for the economy of this country and trying to finance it with the (fuel) tax and a few other sources of revenue. It needs quite a bit more money poured into it. With that thought in mind we're looking at many other alternatives," Von Flatern told "Land Line Now" on XM Satellite Radio.

Von Flatern said he'd prefer not to have private business take over the route in the state. He would rather the Wyoming Department of Transportation remain in control of the highway.

The Legislature is expected to consider these and other proposals once they gather in Cheyenne Jan. 9.

- By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Staff writer Reed Black contributed to this report.