RIVERTON — A bill that would have let county commissioners set up tax districts to fund local airports has died in a tie vote in the Wyoming House of Representatives.
Lawmakers who spoke Thursday against the bill said it could result in new taxes for the minerals industries. But even after an amendment passed exempting agricultural and industrial lands from any future airport districts, Senate File 4 failed in a 30-30 vote.
Opponents of the bill had also pointed out that federal stimulus funds are now flowing out of Washington, D.C., as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, and that money could be used to support airports in Wyoming.
But Rep. Sandy Newsome, R-Cody, said ARPA is a “shot in the arm” compared to SF 4, which proposes a “long-term solution” to fund airports in the state.
Of Wyoming’s nine commercial airports and 30-plus general aviation fields, only three are financially self-sufficient, according to Wyoming Rep. Joe MacGuire, R-Casper, who introduced SF 4 this week in the House.
Other airports, especially those in smaller communities, are supported by local government entities, he said – but those municipalities and counties are facing their own budgetary shortfalls.
In Fremont County, Central Wyoming Regional Airport, served by United Express passenger jets to Denver, is owned by the City of Riverton.
Hunt Field in Lander, a general aviation airport, is owned by the City of Lander, and the Town of Dubois owns the general aviation airport there.
MacGuire said airports in Wyoming have been looking for alternative funding opportunities – like the special tax districts described in SF 4.
“You’re asking your residents to tax themselves to support the airport,” he said. “It can go to the general election, and the people who are in that district can vote on it.”
The representatives who spoke up in defense of the minerals industries before the industrial sector was exempted from SF 4 said those companies are not be able to participate in tax district votes as county residents are, but they still are taxed when such measures pass.
Plus, funding local airports through taxes on extractive companies will not help the state move away from financial reliance on minerals, Wyoming Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, said.
“We’re asking, yet again, our extractive industries, the people who pay the majority of our bills, to pay yet another bill,” he told the House. “They’re the ones that pay the fees for almost everything we do. This is another step in the direction of asking the same people that pay all of our other bills to pick up the tab on another bill.”
He said the amendment removing industrial and agricultural lands from SF 4 sends a better message: “If you have a vested interest in this and you want an airport, you’re going to pony up and pay for it.”
Other representatives argued that industrial businesses do benefit from the presence of airports, which can be used to transport goods and people to and from the state.