Halverson questions Meadís fuel-tax plan
By Kevin Huelsmann, Benjamin Graham and Brielle Schaeffer, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
January 10, 2013
Rep. Marti Halverson challenged a proposal Wednesday to raise the state fuel tax that Gov. Matt Mead endorsed in his annual State of the State speech earlier in the day.
The freshman Republican from Etna said the proposed 10-cent increase could hurt consumers.
Though the increase is supposed to apply to suppliers, there’s a good chance higher costs will be passed on, Halverson said.
“I’m not an expert, but passing on an increase in the cost of a commodity to the consumer seems to be standard practice,” she said.
Halverson’s was one of several reactions by county legislators to the speech, which also covered education, medical care and health insurance.
Halverson, elected in November in House District 22, is skeptical the tax will solve highway funding problems. It’s expected to generate only $71 million annually. State transportation officials say they need nearly $135 million a year to keep up with maintenance.
“You ask anyone who’s been on the campaign trail in the past year, not one of us knocked on a door and heard, ‘Oh, yeah, I want the price of fuel to go up,’ ” she said.
Other lawmakers, including Rep. Ruth Ann Petroff, R-Jackson, have said Wyoming is missing out on funding for its highways. Many of the companies that will pay the tax are out-of-state suppliers who won’t bat an eye at a slightly higher tax, Petroff said.
“About 80 percent of suppliers are located outside of Wyoming,” she said. “These are big, massive suppliers. They’re distributing fuel to multistate areas. This is just an expense on their expense sheet.”
The question whether to raise the state’s fuel tax was one of several topics Mead touched on during his speech Wednesday morning.
He’s proposing to cut $60 million from the state budget to make up for the loss of federal Abandoned Mine Land funding, uncertain natural gas prices and even more uncertain federal funding.
“We have the opportunity to reduce the standard budget in a very deliberate and considered way — at a time when revenue is flat but stable and our state continues to grow,” Mead said.
He asked legislators to consider redirecting a portion of severance tax revenue to highways. The money now goes to the state’s permanent mineral trust fund, which legislators can’t touch.
Mead also proposed spending $8.5 million on salary increases for state employees, $5 million for the state’s Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust Fund, $20 million on landfill cleanup efforts, and $25 million for cities and counties, among several other items.
Mead spoke about the importance of working to advance education reforms.
“This is the session to get us back on track,” he said.
There have been tensions and name-calling between lawmakers and Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill over implementing an education accountability system, created by the Legislature in 2011. Sen. Leland Christensen, R-Alta, wants to stay out of the fray.
“My sense is from the Senate side anyway, and from what I’ve heard legislators say, we’re not going to get caught up in those remarks,” he said.