Money from last summer’s 10-cents-per-gallon fuel tax hike does more than fund the state’s highways.
Snowmobiles, off-road vehicles and boats also benefit from the taxes imposed on fuel in the state.
A provision in the legislation authorizing the tax calls for portions of the revenue to pay for dock repairs for boats and trail maintenance for snowmobiles and other outdoor recreational vehicles.
The provision was in the law before the Legislature hiked the tax from 14 cents to 24 cents per gallon as of July 1.
But critics of the legislation say lawmakers didn’t tout the bill as a way to repair public docks and trails.
“The fuel tax was sold to people as a way to create a long-term source of funding for roads,” said Maureen Bader, a staff member of the Wyoming Liberty Group, a conservative lobbyist and think tank. “This is an example of something that slipped through without the appropriate amount of attention being paid on it.”
Proponents of the law say the provision is justifiable.
“Those vehicles are paying the gas tax,” said Del McOmie, chief engineer for the Wyoming Department of Transportation, “so a portion of those funds go to them.”
There was nothing sneaky about the legislation, said Rep. Mike Madden, R-Buffalo, chairman of the House Revenue Committee, which co-sponsored the fuel tax legislation.
Snowmobilers and boaters lobbied lawmakers to keep the provision that channels money for repairs when the bill came up for debate during the 2013 session in Cheyenne.
“I remember their testimony clearly,” Madden said.
Advocates for outdoor recreational vehicles say the money from the fuel tax isn’t enough.
Snowmobilers are also turning to the Legislature to impose new fee increases.
They are pushing a bill that would hike the user registration by $10 for the next two years and then bump it up by another $5 after that.
That would raise the price to $35 for an in-state and non-resident snowmobile tag next year. For commercial snowmobilers the price would go to $105. The last $10 increase was in 2005.
Snowmobiling generates $175 million of consumer spending in the state each year, said Bert Miller, president of the Wyoming State Snowmobile Association.
Not maintaining the trails could deter people from planning a snowmobiling vacation in the state, he said.
“Forty-nine percent of that basis is people coming to Wyoming from out of state to snowmobile our trail system. We must be doing something right. If they don’t come we all lose money.”
The Big Horn Basin, Wind River Mountains, the Laramie Range and the Bridger-Teton National Forest are home to most of the state’s groomed trails, said Rep. Allen Jaggi, R-Lyman, a member of the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee.
Jaggi opposed the registration bill during a fall interim committee meeting because his constituents don’t have a lot of groomed trails in southwest Wyoming, he said.
“The people who ride on groomed trails will benefit, and the people who don’t will help pay for the people that do,” he said.
He also disliked the additional $5 increase after two years.
“Give them an inch and they take a mile,” he said.
Nobody wants to raise taxes or prices, said Sen. Paul Barnard, R-Evanston, and member of the Senate Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee.
“But it gets to be impossible to maintain without inflation adjustment,” he said. “We have some of the best trails in the nation. If we don’t maintain them business will falter.”
Barnard voted in favor of the fee increase bill when the interim committee voted on it in the fall.
It’s a bill that needs to be debated on the floor in the Capitol, he said.
“I’d like to see $5 increase rather than $10,” he said. “I think they need it. It needs to come out in the open and everyone needs to speak.”