November Joint Transportation Report
By: Pete Obermueller, Executive Director
If you’re keeping score at home, you likely noticed that I did not write a post regarding the recent Joint Corporations Committee meeting in Sundance. That’s because I was only there for one topic – municipal extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ) – and discussion among committee members was nearly non-existent. At issue was a second draft bill on the issue offered by Rep. Tyler Lindholm that removes ETJ in all cases, without exception. WAM and many of their members spoke in opposition to this bill, focusing primarily on the importance of joint planning. I spoke very briefly about the fact that all 23 counties have a planning commission, and that planning will continue no matter the bill the committee chooses to move forward. The bill passed the committee overwhelmingly. So once the session begins there will be at least two ETJ bills sponsored by the Corporations Committee, both severely limit the cities’ ETJ.
Now, onto the more recent meeting of the Joint Transportation Committee. Both Kelli and I attended this meeting in Thermopolis as Kelli was running point on the proposed bill to alter the county registration fee for vehicles, and I was working a proposal to increase the 911 fee to cover pending WyoLink user fees. First, the registration fee.
Throughout this interim, the Joint Transportation Committee has been discussing making changes to the current formula for calculating the county portion of the vehicle registration fee. The impetus for the discussion was trying to find a way to reduce the registration fee for older vehicles with a high original MSRP. For reference, the county fee is now calculated on a 5-year schedule starting at a year of service rate of 60% and ending at 15% (MSRP x year of service rate x .03).
At the October meeting, the committee voted to draft a bill for a 10-year schedule, starting the year of service rate at 65% then depreciating it to 60%, 55%, 40%, 30%, 20%, then 15% in years 7-10, with a $50 flat rate fee in years 11+. The draft bill can be found at this link.
The WCCA has maintained that it is the Legislature’s discretion to make any changes to the formula they would like, we just asked that they keep any changes revenue neutral. Kelli testified that, although the proposed schedule would keep the revenue neutral, there were some concerns with the draft bill.
The first concern was that vehicles with an original MSRP of $11,000 or less would all see a fee increase across the board. The 2nd concern, which we admitted could not be predicted or easily tracked, would be a possible change in buying habits with a higher registration rate for new and newer used vehicles. If a change in the formula did cause a downturn in the purchase of new or newer used vehicles, the repercussions would be two-fold: both a decrease in registration fees and sales tax income. Most importantly, Kelli stressed to the committee the appearance of this being a fee increase to the average resident of Wyoming.
After some discussion of the implications presented, the committee voted not to move forward with the draft bill. This specific scenario was not successful, however, we will be keeping a close eye on this subject if (or when) it comes up again in the future.
On day two the committee spent nearly two and a half hours talking about WyoLink. WyoLink’s agency oversight was only recently moved to WYDOT, which is why the Transportation Committee was taking this up. For many of these members, this was the first time they received a comprehensive report on what WyoLink is and how it works. To that end it was helpful to expand legislator knowledge of the system and our role in it. WYDOT Director Bill Panos talked extensively about WyoLink and the plans to finish build out of towers, and efforts to ensure its modernization and maintenance into the future.
Following his presentation, I offered further explanation of the counties’ role in WyoLink, including the data provided by most counties on WyoLink and 911 expenditures, though at least 5 counties never responded to the WyoLink request so data was incomplete. I offered suggested bill language that would increase the current $0.75 cap on 911 fees to $0.95 and expand allowable expenditures to include WyoLink, an increase that amounts to $3 dollars a year for an individual.
Rep. Brown: I’m concerned that allowing the 911 fee be used for other purposes would dilute the amount of money that is needed for 911 dispatch, but I recognize the problem of imposing user fees without giving you a way to pay for it. Has the WCCA looked at other options for covering this fee?
Answer: Regarding your initial concern I believe that dispatch and interoperable communication must function well together. One cannot really exist without the other in providing the public adequate safety communications. Counties already supplement 911 and WyoLink and will continue to do so even with this increase. As for other options there are lots of ways to cover this cost, counties are required to collect 82 different fees and the legislature could tack this on to any of them, however, I am a strong believer in a close nexus between revenue and expenditures, and this is the closest nexus we could find.
Senator Christensen: When considering raising fees I think we need to look at other available tax options. Have counties maximized their taxing authority statewide?
Answer: Maximizing our taxing authority at the local level is almost entirely dependent upon the voters and no county has ever been able to get above 2 pennies in local sales taxes. Only three counties do not levy the full 12 mills, but I would argue that a fee increase of $3 dollars a year for public safety is preferable to counties raising their mill levies.
Rep. Piiparinen: How can we justify raising this fee when counties have large reserves? I read recently that Sublette County has over $100 million in reserves.
Answer: I would caution the committee against equating Sublette County to other counties like Platte, Goshen or others. But more importantly, I simply reject that counties should be punished for making sound budgeting decisions that allowed them to have a reserve.
Following this exchange, telecommunications industry representatives testified en masse against the proposal, mentioning that some companies pass this charge on to their customers, others “eat” the cost. They also discussed a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) report on 911 fees and expenditures nationwide and the report’s opinion that it is wrong to divert 911 fees to anything but dispatch. Thus, the proposed bill could possibly jeopardize federal grants. Or so was the claim. This argument is debatable, but it nonetheless provided the committee a very handy reason to oppose the bill. Ultimately, the bill was not moved forward by the committee.
So, this means that unless something else is done between now and July 1st, WyoLink user fees will be levied as an unfunded mandate to all units of local government, special districts, etc. In the absence of a funding source, I am working on a strategy to deal with this during the session. More on that to come.
As usual, do not hesitate to contact me with any questions.