CHEYENNE — The Wyoming House of Representatives will debate one of the most important and controversial legislative proposals impacting Wyoming businesses this week.
The House Revenue Committee voted 7-2 this morning to support House Bill 69 creating a 10-cents a gallon increase in the state's tax on motor fuel, sending the proposed legislation to the floor of the House for debate.
The proposal to raise the state tax from 14 to 24 cents on a gallon of gasoline still has a long way to go to become law. It must pass three readings in the House, survive the Senate process and be signed by the governor.
And while Republican Gov. Matt Mead and many key lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have announced their support for the tax
to support Wyoming roads, it also faces significant opposition.
For example, the National Federation of Independent Businesses/Wyoming opposes the gas tax. The organization announced last week that a poll of its Wyoming membership of about 2,000 showed 81 percent oppose the increase.
"All of us want improved and newer roads as fast as they can be repaired or paved, but if the cost would have fewer businesses driving on them because of a tax spike, the whole purpose is defeated," NFIB's Wyoming State Director Tony Gagliardi said.
He added in a statement, "This recession is far from over, and every single policy goal should be aimed at nurturing small-business owners to produce as many new jobs as possible, which increases in taxes, fees and regulations most certainly don't do."
Supporters say adequate infrastructure — especially roads — are imperative for business growth and Cowboy State roads are in desperate need.
The poll showed 18 percent of Wyoming NFIB members supported the gas tax while 1 percent were undecided.
According to House leadership, the bill will likely be debated on the House floor this week.
The Joint Appropriations Committee is also expected to finish its review of Mead's budget recommendations and to release its proposed budget bill this week.Mead has proposed about a 6.5 percent
in cuts across state agencies because of flat revenue from the energy industry taxes that funds the majority of state government functions.
Mead's plan cuts about $60 million over the next year from the $3.2 billion two-year state budget the Legislature approved last year.
The Wyoming business community is keeping an eye on funding for such things as business training and economic development incentives in the budget proposal.
In its first full week of the 40-day legislative session, the House of Representatives is also expected to consider data center collocation incentives, workplace safety initiatives and interstate sales and purchases of health insurance, all of which are important to the business community.
The Senate is expected to consider Senate File 104, which appoints a director for the Wyoming Department of Education, stripping the elected superintendent of public instruction of the duty to run that agency.
Some lawmakers have said this issue is about workforce development as well as what lawmakers see as the superintendent's inability to implement education accountability systems.
Bill Schilling, president of the Wyoming Business Alliance/Heritage Foundation, serves as chairman of a committee that advises lawmakers on educational accountability and connecting education to business development.
"The bill is a management decision. I think it's a management decision that our steering committee wholeheartedly endorses," Schilling said.
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