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Renewed interest shown in Wyoming lodging tax proposal

December 16, 2019 GMT

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — It seems some politicians are warming up to legislating for revenue generation.

After Gov. Mark Gordon announced his willingness to consider a statewide lodging tax last week, members of the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee had an earnest conversation Friday in favor of supporting one, reviving a bill that moved swiftly through the House of Representatives in 2019 before suffering a swift death in the Senate.

One of the few new taxes supported by Gordon as well as heavy hitters like Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, a lodging tax seemed one of the few likely revenue measures of the 2019 legislative session. Backed by industry and hashed out over a long interim, the bill was eyed as one of the few “realistic” revenue options considered, both for its relatively low impact to Wyoming residents as well as for a universal desire to fund the state’s Department of Tourism through a more stable mechanism outside of the state’s general fund, the Casper Star-Tribune reported.

The bill ended up failing – panned by critics as a tax on Wyoming residents. However, members of the JAC on Friday expressed optimism that a coalition could be built around it and, if supported by the committee, could potentially be put on the fast track for a Senate vote within the first week of the 2020 Budget Session.

JAC co-chair Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, said the bill would likely need leadership’s full endorsement to move ahead.

“We could use all our political clout,” he told committee members Friday. “Even if we have to grin and bear it, I want 100 percent of the committee to support this thing.”

“This has to be a combined effort,” he added.

Many still have reservations about the legislation. Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, said that a number of hoteliers in his district are concerned over potential impacts they would see at home from the bill’s passage, while others expressed their own concerns over the way the money generated from the tax would be allocated.

While no decisions were made on whether to support the bill, Friday’s meeting represented some of the first signs of leadership in a tax-shy Legislature discussing the wholesale endorsement of any type of tax. Though the lodging tax was one of the most broadly-supported proposals on the floor last session, many influential members of the Legislature broke ranks with leadership, hung up on the bill’s unpopularity with constituents.

However, with all major revenue options failing in committee during the 2019 interim session, Nicholas suggested the Legislature as a whole could be more likely to support the bill if made into a priority by leadership.

There may be other surprises too: controversial in its own right, a proposal to impose a toll on Interstate 80 received an unlikely endorsement last week from Wyoming Liberty Group-affiliated economist Sven Larson, who argued that self-funding the maintenance of I-80 could give the state room to reform its vehicle registration tax to “be purely and exclusively a funding model for the rest of our highways.”

A corporate income tax, however, will be the most-attention grabbing revenue bill in 2020. Sponsored by Rep. Jerry Obermueller, R-Casper, the bill has been given favorable treatment by lawmakers at the committee stage, who feel it deserves a fair hearing.