CHEYENNE — A controversial 10-cent fuel-tax hike today passed its final reading in the Wyoming House of Representatives by a vote of 35-24, driving the bill to the Senate to either wave it through or blockade.
As the House steered the bill's fate, the Wyoming Department of Transportation released the results of a telephone survey indicating that almost 8 in 10 Wyomingites are satisfied with WYDOT's maintenance of state roads, including the condition of such things as guardrails and potholes.
The survey, conducted by the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center at the University of Wyoming, interviewed 991 adult Wyoming residents in representing every county between Nov. 27 and Dec. 16, 2012, and 79 percent of them expressed overall satisfaction with WYDOT's stewardship of the statewide transportation system. A mere 2 percent said they were dissatisfied while 19 percent shifted into neutral on the question.
The survey used a random phone-number generator to obtain results with a margin of error of 3 percent with 95 percent confidence that the opinions of the state's population as a whole fall within that range. The same survey has been conducted every two years since 2002, but the routine this year coincidentally landed the results in the middle of the fuel-tax controversy.
Even with high satisfaction rates, WYDOT continues to call for funding, declaring an annual $134 million funding gap for road maintenance. The tax increase, if it passes its three Senate readings and is signed by the governor in its current state, would likely add more than $70 million to WYDOT's available funds.
WYDOT spokesman Dave Kingham told the Business Report that not all the results indicated that people are entirely happy with the state of roads. What he sees as a key question indicated that the percentage of residents who agree the condition of the state highways has improved during the past two years declined from 71 percent in 2010 to 63 percent last year.
"That's an indication that they're starting to see a deterioration," Kingham said.
He added that things at ground level tend to look much worse.
"We've been saying all along, it might not be evident to you as you drive down the highway at 65 or 75 that the condition is deteriorating," he said.
While the bill's fate in the Senate is less certain, it would be a surprise move for the governor to not sign his name if it reaches his desk. He has led the push to increase funding for Wyoming roads, even paving his State of the State Address with road rhetoric.
"In effect we subsidize out-of-state drivers and I believe we've subsidized them long enough," Mead said, referring to the fact that other states' fuel taxes are significantly higher than Wyoming's, which has been frozen at 14 cents per gallon since 1998.
He added that raising the fuel tax makes sense because the Department of Transportation doesn't have enough operating funds to maintain Wyoming roads and "It's a conservative principle to pay as you go rather than creating a debt you have to fix."
"We need action, not more words," he said. "We are not Washington, D.C.; we are Wyoming, we get things done."
Other survey results:
- 79 percent said they were satisfied with the maintenance of the state's highways, a bump up from the 76 percent who expressed satisfaction in the 2010 survey.
- About 77 percent said they are satisfied with the smoothness of the ride on interstates and state highways near their residence, a decline of 4 percent from the 2010 survey.
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