This article originally appeared on Oil City News. Used with permission.
CASPER, Wyo. — The Wyoming House of Representatives passed a bill on second reading during their Friday, Feb. 14 meeting which would restructure and create a statewide lodging tax.
The House killed two amendments to the bill on Friday and adopted one.
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One failed amendment would have removed lodging tax exemptions that exist for recreational outfitting companies in the state.
House District 48 Representative Clark Stith proposed that amendment.
“What this amendment does is simply repeal the current exemptions for outfitters,” he said. “The entire policy of this bill is to tax people from out of state. If our policy is to try to reap this lodging tax from out of state it makes sense to repeal [the exemptions].”
Stith said that hunting, fishing or camping outfitters benefit from advertising which lodging tax dollars pay for.
“They are getting the benefit of all of this advertising and they are paying nothing for it,” he said.
House District 23 Representative Andy Schwartz spoke in opposition to the amendment.
“As this bill currently stands it is a good bill,” he said. “I don’t want to create a situation where we might have problem passing it. Every little adjustment we make to it raises that possibility.”
House District 20 Representative Albert Sommers said that adjusting the exemptions for outfitters was inappropriate under the proposed bill.
“Right now in statute, outfitters are exempt,” he said. “[With the amendment] we are trying to carve them back into the lodging tax which is not the intent of the bill to begin with. When you sell a trip out in the mountains, you sell an experience. It’s very difficult how you even contemplate taxing that tent.”
House District 58 Representative Pat Sweeney said that the exemption for outfitters stirred debate in previous legislative sessions.
“This was a huge battle,” he said. “I don’t want to go there again. It ended up confusing things. I just would urge you to vote no on this one.”
House District 35 Representative Joe MacGuire said he was in favor of the amendment.
“It is a fairness issue,” he said. “I don’t think we should shy away from it for any reason. If you go to my neck of the woods, there are some massive lodges.”
He said that some of these lodges feature “first class accommodations.”
“[Outfitters] are not paying any lodging tax,” he said. “They are direct beneficiaries of this advertising.”
House District 40 Representative Richard Tass said that as he understood the law, outfitters are not exempt from the lodging tax when their guests stay at lodges, but rather are exempt from taxes associated with excursions or camping.
“On our ranch we charge your bed tax,” he said. “We don’t charge that tax when we are out riding.”
Sommers read the current law and said that he thinks temporary shelters are exempt from the taxes.
“It’s really not about the cabins from what I understand,” he said.
House District 28 Representative John Winter says he thinks the Wyoming Board of Tourism neglects outfitters.
“The tourism board does not pay much attention to the outfitters, especially the hunting outfitters,” he said. “I don’t think it is right to charge for a tent, a stove and a cot.”
The House also killed an amendment proposed by House District 32 Representative Tim Hallinan. That amendment would have restructured how revenues from the lodging tax would be distributed to counties and towns throughout the state.
“I think it is time that we need to look at the amount of money that is being withheld from counties for these expenses,” he said. “I think this is a worthy objective. The cities and counties around the state are always coming to us asking for more funds and here is a source.”
House District 07 Representative Sue Wilson said she was opposed the amendment because she understood the goal of the proposed legislation as an attempt to fund the Wyoming Board of Tourism entirely separately from the state’s general fund.
“The goal of tourism is to advertise all of Wyoming,” she said, adding that she thought the amendment could undermine that goal.
“The purpose of the lodging tax in general is not about funding local governments,” he said. “It is to fund the tourism industry. That’s critical. It is a highly competitive industry. Tourism is currently our number two industry and it is growing.”
He said that the statewide lodging tax proposal was meant to make Wyoming tourism more competitive with other states.
Sweeney also opposed this amendment.
“Let’s just keep this clean, simple,” he said.
The House adopted an amendment proposed by Sommers and House District 29 Representative Mark Kinner.
Kinner said the purpose of the amendment would be to give counties the option to ask voters to support local lodging taxes rather than leaving this decision up to county commissioners. The amendment would not change commissioners right to impose the tax without voter approval.
“As the bill stands now, the other 2% [local tax] would be determined by the county or the city,” Kinner said before the vote. “This amendment gives county commissioners the option to make the decision themselves or allow the electorate to determine.”
The House will need to pass the bill on third reading before it would be sent to the Senate for consideration.
The proposed bill would modify lodging tax rules in Wyoming, creating a 5% statewide lodging tax. While local governments could still impose lodging taxes, the maximum local rate would be reduced from 4% to 2%.
But counties would see a portion of revenues from the 5% statewide lodging tax.
“2% of the 5% statewide lodging assessment would be distributed to each county on a monthly basis in proportion to the taxes collected within the county, including all municipalities in that county,” a fiscal note on the proposed bill explains.
The other 3% of the statewide tax would be distributed in the following manner:
-80% of the average annual revenue collected during the preceding 5 years would be deposited each year in the proposed Wyoming Tourism Account. No funds would be expended from the proposed account until appropriated by the legislature. Funds in the proposed account would be used for the operation of the Wyoming Tourism Board and the Wyoming Office of Tourism.
-Any remaining revenue would be deposited in the proposed Wyoming Tourism Reserve and Projects Account. No funds would be expended from the proposed account until appropriated by the legislature.Legislative Service Office
“If a local lodging tax is in place as of January 1, 2021, the local lodging tax would continue until the next election at which the lodging tax would have been considered,” the Legislative Service Office adds. “The new 2% statewide lodging assessment would go into effect upon the expiration of the local lodging tax currently in place.”
Governor Mark Gordon has expressed support for the legislation, saying that it could make Wyoming tourism more competitive with other states.
“I applaud our tourism industry and I support its proposal for a lodging tax that would help Wyoming compete with our neighboring states,” Gordon said in his State of the State address. “Tourism and outdoor recreation in Wyoming represents an enormous opportunity to grow our economy. It is a sector which employs more people and returns substantial sales tax revenue. The revenue comes mostly from outside our state.”
Natrona County Commissioner and Visit Casper CEO Brook Kaufman told the Casper City Council in August that the local lodging tax brought in just under $1.8 million in 2018.
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