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Fuel Tax Increase Goes to Trail Grooming

Some politicians, bureaucrats and a cabal of special interest groups spent months wringing their hand over the state of Wyoming’s highways and called for a higher fuel tax to maintain them. To grease this tax grab through the legislature, tax supporters said all the money collected by the fuel tax increase would go to roads. The bill passed, and now it seems some of the increase will not go to roads. Wyoming’s State Parks and Cultural Resources (SPCR) will get a chunk of the higher fuel tax bonanza.

Will it spend its tax windfall on roads? No. It will go to trail grooming and motorboat facilities.

SPCR has a problem, though. It can’t spend its tax windfall unless it gets more spending authority from the legislature. But that’s not all — it also wants to hike snowmobile registration fees too.

Legislators have an opportunity redeem themselves for the fuel tax fudge by denying the request for more spending room and killing the fee hike bill.

To pass the fuel tax grab through the legislature, high tax enthusiasts disguised it as a long-term source of funding for highways. But fuel taxes are anything but a long term source of funding. A 2012 report by the Congressional Budget Office predicted new federal fuel-economy standards would reduce gasoline consumption by 24 percent. This means fuel tax revenue will fall over time and not, as claimed, be a long term source of funding for anything.

But did this funding fiction matter? No. The fuel tax bill passed and the tax on gasoline and diesel fuels rose from fourteen cents to twenty-four cents per gallon.

The fuel tax bill specifies that the tax increase must be spent only on highway system maintenance. But it also increases fuel tax revenues to SPCR proportionate to the tax hike.

The fuel tax hike was never intended solely for highway maintenance.

But does SPCR need more money?

SPCR already receives about $1.1 million in fuel tax cash every biennium to groom over 2,000 miles of snowmobile trails. With the fuel tax hike, this agency will receive an additional $822,525 for the 2015/16 biennium, meaning it will have about $1.9 million to blow.  

That these funds go to maintain snowmobile trails instead of roads is bad enough, but the agency doesn’t have enough spending room to spend the extra tax windfall.

At the moment, this agency only has the authority to spend $1.4 million in fuel tax revenue on snowmobile trails so it needs to convince the legislature to let it spend $537,420 more.

But that’s not all. This agency gets another $2.6 million per biennium from the federal government to spend on trails, part of which goes to snowmobile trails, and collects about $1.7 million in fees (government speak for tax) from snowmobile riders, again, to spend on trails.

Given it has more than it is able to spend from the fuel tax windfall, will it give snowmobilers a break? Of course not. It wants to hike the snowmobile rider tax too.

During Wyoming’s upcoming legislative session, the legislature will look at a bill to end a $25 resident snowmobile user fee, but it would hike registration taxes by more than the user fee reduction. So, instead of picking both pockets, the bill proposes to pick only one, but takes even more out of that lonely pocket.

If it folds the resident user fee into the registration tax, this bill would increase the privately owned snowmobile registration tax from $5 to $35 dollars, meaning, should this bill pass, effective July 1, 2014: any private snowmobile owner who paid $30 in total fees before, will pay $35 until June 30, 2016 and $40 after that.

The commercial registration tax would also go up, from $75 to $105 effective June 30, 2014 to June 30, 2016 and $120 after that. Non-resident snowmobiles continue to pay the user fee but that goes up from $25 to $35 effective June 30, 2014.

This increase will hike the agency’s registration tax take by $336,737 in 2015, $354,460 in 2016 and $478,505 in 2017. 

This agency expects to collect more than $3.6 million in tax revenue over the next biennium to spend on about 2,000 miles of snowmobile trails. That’s more than $1,800 per mile!

It’s time to end this taxpayer abuse. Legislators must stop fueling the bureaucrat spending party and leave money in the pockets of the people who earned it.

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Monday, 26 September 2016

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