Bill would remove Tourism Division from general fund

By Jonathan Gallardo

Gillette News Record

Via Wyoming News Exchange

GILLETTE — A proposed statewide lodging tax would take the Wyoming Office of Tourism’s budget out of the state’s general fund.

House Bill 66, sponsored by the Joint Revenue Interim Committee, proposes enacting a 5 percent statewide lodging tax. The collections would be split between the state and the local collecting entities.

The bill also creates a state tourism account that would be used to fund the Wyoming Office of Tourism.

There are two parts to the 5 percent tax. Three percent will be distributed to the tourism account, and 2 percent to the counties on a monthly basis in proportion to the taxes collected within the county, including all municipalities in that county.

Counties now have the option of having a 2-4 percent lodging tax, which is voted on every four years. The bill would make 2 percent permanent, with a maximum of 2 percent more subject to a vote if counties choose.

Mary Silvernell, executive director of the Campbell County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that for counties that already have a 2 percent lodging tax in place, such as Campbell County, nothing will change.

If the bill becomes law, it would take effect Jan. 1, 2020. The tax would bring in a projected $9.7 million for the tourism office in fiscal year 2020 and $19.5 million the following fiscal year.

The Wyoming Travel Industry Coalition and the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association support the bill, Silvernell said.

She said Wyoming’s tourism office ranks 31st among the nation’s tourism offices in terms of its budget. It gets $25 million per biennium, or $12.5 million annually, from of the state’s general fund. South Dakota works with $16 million per year, while Colorado and Utah are closer to $20 million annually.

“We’re already behind the eight ball,” Silvernell said.

The tax would make Wyoming more competitive with its neighbors and free up money for the state, she said. If the bill passes, the tourism office would be taken out of the general fund, and the $25 million each biennium that used to be for tourism could be spent elsewhere.

“We know there’s going to be the ‘no new taxes’ voters out there, but I think if they look at the whole picture it does make sense,” Silvernell said.

The lodging tax exemption for companies that pay for workers to be housed in hotels for more than 30 days would still exist, she said.

In 2018, the tourism industry supported a 1 percent excise tax on the sale of tourism activities in Wyoming, which included hotels, restaurants and bars. But it didn’t have the support of then-Senate President Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, who supported a statewide lodging tax that died in the Legislature.