Tuesday, February 15, 2000

Nuke tax fails on opening day in House

By ROBERT W. BLACK

Associated Press Writer

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A bill allowing taxation of nuclear waste storage fell one vote short of introduction in the House on Monday, the first day of the Legislature's budget session.

Rep. Louise Ryckman, D-Green River, the House minority floor leader, argued against the measure, saying its passage would encourage radioactive dumps to move to the state.

"This particular entity has come to us over and over and asked us to tax them," she said. "Why? Why are they so anxious to be taxed? ... The wolf is at the door."

House Revenue Committee Chairman John Hines, R-Gillette, said the bill only clarifies that the state Department of Revenue could implement a taxation system if the nuclear storage industry ever comes to the state.

It does not change existing law regulating application procedures, he said.

The vote was 39-21 in favor, but non-budget bills require a two-thirds majority to be introduced, which is 40 votes in the House.

Representatives voted 50-10 to introduce House Bill 70, which would remove sales tax exemptions enjoyed by newspapers, community recreational facilities and outfitters.

The bill would generate $3.3 million in fiscal year 2002, according to staff estimates.

The measure was later unanimously recommended by the Revenue Committee despite the urging of newspaper lobbyist Bruce Moats to reject it.

"It makes tax collectors out of those independent carriers, and most of them are children," he said.

Newspapers will have to raise prices by at least a nickel on vending machines because it would be too expensive to alter the machines to accept pennies, he said.

Rep. Rodney "Pete" Anderson, R-Pine Bluffs, dismissed any inconvenience the measure would cause for consumers or publishers.

"I just don't understand why we don't pay a sales tax on newspapers if we pay it on bread or an automobile," he said.

The committee delayed a vote on a bill that would tax railroads 7 cents per train mile and $100 per crossing. Members wanted to consult the state Department of Revenue on the best way to use the estimated $1.5 million the tax would raise.

The measure would put the funds toward crossing construction and maintenance but Burlington Northern lobbyist John Sundahl said no mechanism exists for prioritizing which crossings are most dangerous.

He also said the bill singles out railroads for a tax that might not be necessary.

"What is wrong with the current system?" he said after pointing out the railroad spends $50 million per year in Wyoming on maintaining track. "It's premature to rush into this bill. This is not one small modest step."

Other bills that received the necessary two-thirds vote for introduction would raise the fee for annual hunting and fishing conservation stamps from $5 to $7.50, allow the state treasurer to invest up to 55 percent of permanent funds in common stocks, and reorganize the state's county courts into a circuit court system that allows judges to travel to heavy caseload areas.

Also introduced was a measure that moves up the date for renewing state grazing fees and one adjusting fees paid by businesses.

Besides the nuclear waste tax bill, the only other measure to die in the House was legislation eliminating the requirement of schools to offer foreign language instruction to kindergarten students by the 2002-03 school year.

Work on the budget bill will begin Wednesday. Each chamber will debate identical versions of the measure, then a joint conference committee will attempt to work out differences.