SHERIDAN — A bill the Joint Revenue Committee voted to introduce to the Wyoming Legislature when it convenes in January could provide direct benefits to Sheridan County’s tourism programs, according to Sheridan Travel and Tourism Executive Director Shawn Parker. The bill is designed to provide more, and more reliable, funding for the state’s tourism promotion efforts, which are currently subsidized by the state’s general fund. The size of the general fund varies from year to year, depending on how much revenue the state pulls in, which means the money appropriated from that fund varies as well.
Parker, who is also a member of the Wyoming Travel Industry Coalition, said he has heard several previous proposals for a statewide lodging tax, but the latest proposal is the most attractive.
“We’ve know the legislators have wanted to get the Wyoming Office of Tourism off the general fund for the last few years,” Parker said. “…This solution has sort of been the industry’s best effort at answering the task set forth by legislators and doing something that actually benefits the entire lodging and travel industry as a whole.” The legislation would establish a 3 percent statewide lodging tax, which would be used to fund the Wyoming Office of Tourism’s marketing efforts and would raise an estimated $19 million.
If the tax is approved, it would be added on top of existing local lodging taxes, but Parker said he does not think that cost increase would make local or state lodging prices any less competitive.
He pointed out that neighboring states like Montana and South Dakota would still have a higher lodging tax than Wyoming. In addition, Wyoming’s lodging rates are relatively low compared to nearby competitors, and the increase would be relatively slight as a result.
However, Parker said the that increase would have significant, and direct benefits to Sheridan’s tourism programs.
“If we didn’t have the Wyoming Office of Tourism at its current funding level, we wouldn’t be able to do a lot of what we do at our local level,” Parker said. “Because we co-op and partner with the Wyoming Office of Tourism and the state so frequently and at such a high level.”
Still, Parker said he recognized the higher tax rate could worry some Sheridan County residents. However, if the bill does pass, local residents will not be immediately affected.
The bill stipulates that the statewide tax would not be imposed on communities, like Sheridan County, that have already passed local lodging taxes until those local taxes expire to avoid burdening those regions with an additional lodging tax.
Sheridan County voters approved a 4 percent countywide lodging tax during November’s elections, which is due to take effect July 1. That tax will need to be approved in four years, and county voters will determine whether they want to renew the tax with the state’s added 2 percent tax at that time.