Special tax districts for airport funding considered – again

State legislators are once again considering a bill to allow special tax districts for air service funding in Wyoming.

The legislation was introduced last year as Senate File 4, but it failed to pass the Wyoming House in a 30-30 vote.

The bill would have allowed local communities to vote on whether they wanted to set up a special tax district to fund their airports.

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No new taxes

Legislators who opposed SF 4 expressed concerns about increased taxation in the state, Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport director Devon Brubaker said last week during a meeting of the legislature’s Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee.

He asked the committee to take up the bill again this year – or help identify “new solutions” to the funding problem facing the commercial air service industry in the state.

Wyoming has 40 public use airports, Brubaker said, and only three of them are “financially self-sustaining.”

“The other 37 require over $14 million each year in financial support from counties, cities and towns to cover labor, maintenance, utilities, air service and capital costs,” he said.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation has identified an additional $45 million in annual unfunded needs in the state’s aviation system, he said, for a grand total of $59 million more needed per year.

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“Those costs … cannot be covered by the state, nor our local government entities,” he said.

He pledged to work with stakeholders in the coming months and come back to the committee in August with more concrete ideas for funding Wyoming’s airports in the future.

Airports generate more than $2 billion in economic activity in Wyoming each year, Brubaker said, bringing in more than $80 million in state and local tax revenues and creating more than 20,000 jobs, all while providing “critical connectivity” to the communities they serve.

“Airports are key economic drivers,” he said. “Their fiscal health is paramount.”

Committee members said they would continue working on the issue during the interim as well, expressing a desire to keep SF 4 on the table.

Strings attached

Several committee members asked Brubaker about the federal requirements imposed on airports in Wyoming and throughout the country.

For example, at one point federal officials said Lander’s airport needed to be able to accommodate two Boeing 737 planes, Wyoming Rep. Joe MacGuire, R-Casper, recalled – but “there’s never been two 737s in Lander in the history of that airport.”

Brubaker agreed that “the aviation industry is heavily regulated,” but he noted that the situation in Lander represented a “significant deviation from what we normally see.”

He also pointed out that airports are required to meet federal guidelines even if they don’t accept federal funding.

“(So we) might as well get the federal dollars to help pay for it,” he said.  

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