A bill that would impose a statewide lodging tax, rather than the current county-by-county option, is breezing through the Wyoming Legislature.
House Bill 134, the only tax Gov. Mark Gordon has said he would support, passed the House Appropriations Committee in a 6-1 vote Tuesday. It calls for a 5% tax on lodging services, with 2% going to local governments and the rest to an independent funding source for the state’s Office of Tourism.
In Teton County the state-mandated tax would replace the 2% tax local voters have approved, most recently in the 2018 election.
The bill is similar to one that failed in the 2019 legislative session, with the main difference being that elected officials — county commissioners or town councilors, as the case may be — could increase the tax in their jurisdictions by another 2%, for a total of 7%. That’s in contrast to the current system, under which the tax can be renewed or increased only by a vote of the electorate.
A second update to the bill establishes a broader range of uses for the local funding the tax generates. As it stands, 60% of Teton County’s lodging tax revenue goes to the Travel and Tourism Board to promote Jackson Hole, and the rest goes to the town and county to help pay for the effects of tourist visits.
The definition of “promotion” for the TTB’s portion is currently restricted to “advertising.” Under the new bill, it would also include “staging of events, educational materials, and other specific tourism related objectives, including those identified as likely to facilitate tourism or enhance the visitor experience.”
Teton County’s delegation has pushed for that wording in the past to give the community more flexibility to pay for visitor impacts. Rep. Andy Schwartz, D-Teton, called it “one of my highest priorities.”
Last year’s bill failed despite widespread industry support. That support remains, however, and so far the bill’s path to Gov. Gordon’s desk has been smooth.
Its next stop is the House of Representatives.
“Most of our surrounding states significantly outspend Wyoming in trying to attract visitors,” said Chris Brown, representing several Wyoming tourism associations. “A statewide lodging tax was never our first choice, but I believe this bill truly represents compromise.”
The House committee’s discussion Tuesday mainly focused on whether to exclude lodging services at state and county campgrounds. Schwartz proposed an amendment to exempt county fairgrounds during fairs and other events.
“My desire is to make this bill as simple as possible so it passes,” he said. “I only propose this amendment because I think it will cause less controversy.”