WLRA May 2017 Legislative Update
The WLRA is actively involved at both the state and federal level on all legislative items impacting Wyoming’s hospitality and tourism industry. As congress considers President Trump’s proposed budget and as the 2018 Wyoming Legislative Budget Session approaches, your association will continue to be fully engaged in protecting Wyoming’s second largest industry.
Budget: President Trump's proposed federal budget would eliminate the U.S.'s investment in Brand USA, the international travel-marketing arm of the United States. In the past four years, Brand USA generated an additional 4.3 million visitors from other countries, which added $29.5 billion to our economy. Not only that, Brand USA adds an average of 50,900 new U.S.-based jobs annually as a result of the increases in international travelers to the U.S. Most importantly, it doesn't spend a dime of federal taxpayer dollars.
President Trump’s public suggestion that the country “could use a good shut down” earlier this year has also been harming Wyoming’s visitor economy as potential travelers, particularly international visitors, have shown caution in booking or have cancelled planned trips for later this year. The WLRA has drafted a letter to Wyoming’s Congressional Delegation urging a long range funding plan. The letter also details the harmful ramifications that public speculation surrounding a possible shutdown has on our states second largest industry.
H-2B Visa’s: Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate are introducing legislation that would create a new guest worker program. Modeled on an innovative approach working well in Canada, the program would allow the states to design their own guest worker programs, granting visas to workers seeking to enter the U.S. and potentially those already in the country.
The congressionally mandated cap of 66,000 visas was reached extremely early this year and many WLRA members faced the threat of not having H-2B workers to supplement their full time staff for the upcoming tourism season. New language included in the current spending package will allow the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of Labor, the authority to raise the H-2B cap when it is determined that there is an economic need. This provision could significantly increase the total number of H-2B visas available to employers seeking to meet their peak season workforce needs.
Interim: With a $400 million shortfall in education funding left largely unaddressed this past session, the Joint Revenue Committee has been tasked with raising between $100-$300 million in new revenue this interim. Committee Co-Chairman Senator Ray Peterson announced that the committee will consider numerous tax increases including sales tax, property tax, corporate and gross receipts tax and the removal of tax exemptions at their September meeting.
Local Option Lodging Tax: The 2017 Legislative General Session saw four separate attempts to divert funding generated from the local option lodging tax to other interests seeking new revenue sources. Airline enhancement, local governments, infrastructure and the Wyoming Game and Fish Dept. were all considered before your association was successful in defeating all four attempts. There will absolutely be more efforts to divert lodging tax funds this session. Members of the aeronautics industry have approached the WLRA with intent on proposing a statewide lodging tax for enhanced airline funding. Another county is seeking a resolution to have all lodging taxes generated going entirely to local government funding. The local option lodging tax will come under fire again in the 2018 budget session and your association will make sure that the industry’s voice is heard with these discussions.
Tourism Funding: The Joint Revenue Committee has a statewide lodging tax on their interim topic discussion list as well this summer. Committee Co-Chairman Mike Madden reached out to WLRA Executive Director Chris Brown during the 2017 General Session to notify him of their intent to study the topic. He let Brown know that a 2% statewide lodging tax could fund the Wyoming Office of Tourism at their current funding levels while reverting nearly $24 million back into the general fund and urged Brown to explain the need to get the Wyoming Office of Tourism off of the state’s general fund. Fortunately, members of the WLRA board of directors along with board members from the Wyoming travel Industry Coalition and the Wyoming Tourism Board have been meeting for the past 8 months to agree upon an alternate funding method for Wyoming Tourism. Stay tuned to upcoming e-newsletters for more details as the boards work to build consensus and support across the state.
The WLRA monitors and is engaged in all industry related issued throughout the year. Please reach out to Chris Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions or for more information.