Road funding draws much consideration in Wyoming

| 1/31/2007

Lawmakers in the Wyoming statehouse have been discussing several efforts to increase transportation funding since the legislative session opened earlier this month. While most of those efforts remain active, one bill that called for increasing the state’s excise tax on fuel has died.

The House Revenue Committee voted 5-4 to kill a bill that would have added 5 cents to the state’s 14-cent-per-gallon tax on gas and diesel. To offset the hit to taxpayers’ pockets, the measure called for a price break on vehicle registration fees.

Opponents of the bill – HB184 – said fewer dollars from registration fees would have meant about $25 million a year less for education, The Associated Press reported. Supporters noted the bill would have restored the bulk of that amount with money from the state school foundation fund.

Others touted the plan as an innovative way to inject funds into the state’s transportation department. Officials with the Wyoming Department of Transportation said the agency needs $250 million more annually to maintain the state’s roadways.

Among the issues causing uncertainty about available dollars are soaring construction costs, including asphalt, and ongoing negotiations about federal funding for highway projects, The AP reported. Rising diesel prices to deliver product to job sites and run construction equipment also were cited.

Another effort to inject funds into transportation also met resistance.

The Senate Appropriations Committee tabled a bill – SF43 – that would have diverted $200 million from the state’s Permanent Mineral Trust Fund to transportation.

The mineral fund is the state’s major long-term savings account. It is intended to provide a permanent source of investment income.

Other efforts to increase funding for roads and bridges in the state that are still active include a bill – HB24 – that would establish a select panel to study how to maintain Wyoming’s portion of Interstate 80.

The panel of highway professionals, lawmakers and state highway commissions would have six to eight months and $100,000 to come up with a solution.

WYDOT has called on the state to develop a long-term maintenance plan for I-80 that is separate from plans for other roads and highways, the Casper Star-Tribune reported.

Plans for long-term maintenance for the highway could include upgrading the asphalt to a sturdier concrete, adding a third lane in each direction, building alternate routes, or diverting truck traffic to rail. Tolling also was mentioned for further study.

The House unanimously approved HB24 clearing the way for it to head to the Senate for further consideration.

A separate effort – HB185 – in the House Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee would send $73 million from the state budget reserve account to WYDOT for the balance of the fiscal year ending in June 2008. The funds would be required to be spent on projects approved by the state’s Transportation Commission.

Another bill would bump up fees for WYDOT services. The price of a commercial driver’s license would increase from $25 to $45. A CDL renewal would increase from $20 to $35 while the fee for a skills test would increase from $40 to $70.

The measure – HB253 – is awaiting consideration on the House floor.

Two other bills awaiting consideration before the full House would increase the share of income WYDOT receives from two sources.

The first bill – HB208 – would tap into federal mineral royalties for roads while the second bill – HB209 – calls for aid from the mineral severance tax.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor