CHEYENNE — The cost to register vehicles in Wyoming may increase. So could the cost to file a lawsuit, register a company or get a copy of a birth certificate.
About a dozen bills in the Wyoming Legislature propose hiking fees for government services.
State agencies sorely need the money, proponents of the measures say, as mineral revenues are down.
Fees are a way to raise revenue without having to utter the word “taxes” in a state that prides itself on some of the lowest levies on goods and services in the nation. Lawmakers can throw support behind fee increases free of worry that their votes will haunt them during the next election season.
Some fees proposals would nickel and dime the public and avoid a broad discussion on whether more taxes are necessary, said Sen. Chris Rothfuss of Laramie, who is pushing the Legislature to have such a conversation.
“Many promise not to vote for a tax,” said Rothfuss, the Democratic leader in the Senate. “But perhaps they see a fee as something else.”
Rothfuss isn’t opposed to all fee increases. Some, in fact, he’s sponsoring before the Legislature.
“There’s a recognition we need to raise revenue,” he said. “We’re not sufficiently resourced to meet agency needs. So we’re looking for ways to generate revenue.”
Wyoming Senate leaders have said they are not interested in new taxes, said Buck McVeigh, executive director of the Wyoming Taxpayers Association, which represents the industries paying the most taxes.
“Fees, on the other hand, are sometimes a pay-to-play kind of thing,” said McVeigh, who previously worked for decades for the state on budgeting.
The Taxpayers Association doesn’t have a position on the fees’ legislation.
The Wyoming Liberty Group, on the other hand, is monitoring the suite of bills that would increase fees, said Jonathan Downing, the organization’s CEO.
Last summer, the Liberty Group asked candidates to sign a pledge to not raise or create new taxes. It allowed an exception when fees pay directly for a service and do not go into the state’s general fund. A handful of lawmakers made the promise.
“It appears that some (fee bills) have legs and a chance on getting through, at least through the Appropriations Committee,” McVeigh said.
In fact, some legislation that raises fees has already passed the House, such as House Bill 218, the vehicle registration bill.
The cost of registering passenger cars would go up by $10 to $25, if the bill became law.
The cost to register school buses would increase from $10 to $25.
Motorcycle registrations could increase from $12 to $25.
There are also hikes in larger vehicles, based on weight.
HB218 will raise $18 million for the state’s highway fund.
Also clearing the House and headed to the Senate is HB15, which creates new fees that registered sex offenders would have to pay the state and county where they live.
HB30 was received by the Wyoming Senate for introduction. It would allow the Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources to have flexibility in setting its fees.
A number of measures would increase the court filing fees.
There are a couple proposals to increase Game and Fish fees, including House Bill 288, which increases costs on many hunting and fishing licenses, motorboat registration and lifetime conservation stamps. It also states that future Game and Fish fee increases will align with inflation, as determined by the Consumer Price Index, which is published by the U.S. Department of Labor.
HB170 would allow the Wyoming Health Department to increase the fees hospitals and health care facilities pay for licensure from the current $500. The bill originally was written to increase the fee to $5,000. It was amended to $1,500.
People who need copies of birth, death, marriage and divorce records may have to pay $20 for the first copy. That’s up from $5 for death certificates and $8 for birth, marriage and divorce certificates.
House Bill 180 was originally written to increase the fees to only $16, but it was hiked even more on the House floor.
The new amount would add $1 million to Department of Health coffers, according to a fiscal estimate.
Republican Rep. Mike Madden of Buffalo amended the bill to increase the fee to $20. He said that he heard testimony from state officials that $16 would cover their staff research costs. But with inflation, $16 will not be enough in future years, he said.
“The way we are when it comes to changing taxes and fees, you might be a great-grandma when it comes to changing them again,” he said.