A missed opportunity
CCVC reps attempt visit with Senator Larry Hicks to discuss lodging tax
March 4, 2020
Chairman of the Wyoming Tourism Board and bestselling author C.J. Box, along with nine other Carbon County residents, went to visit Senator Larry Hicks at the Capitol Building in Cheyenne at around 2 p.m. on February 24.
“I sent the note in to Senator Hicks saying we would love to visit with you about the Five Percent Lodging Tax and ask for your support,” Box said. “We waited 25 minutes while every other senator in the state came out and met with their constituents, but he never came out.”
Box said that Hicks informed the Carbon County visitors later that he was in the midst of a debate and that he came out later and looked for the Carbon County group. Hicks missed his opportunity because the group had to get back to the Governor’s Conference for meetings
“This was one of the largest group of constituents that came to the building and other senators were busy too and yet they found the time to come out and acknowledge their people,” Box said. “It is unfortunate for Saratoga, one of the most widely recognized tourist destinations in the state, that our only senator doesn’t really support tourism the way it should be supported. It is not a good thing.”
Hicks put forth an amendment on the tax in which 80 percent of the funding would have gone into a tourism fund that the legislature would have to appropriate to the state tourism office and 20 percent into the state’s school foundation program account.
His amendment did not pass (See “Lodging tax passes” on page 3.)
Hicks was one of the 13 senators that voted against the Five Percent Lodging tax. 16 senators voted for it and it passed.
Carbon County Visitor Council (CCVC) Saratoga Representative, and owner of Firewater Public House, Danny Burau was one of the constituents that waited for Hicks.
“It was disappointing Hicks didn’t come out,” Burau said. “Chuck Box’s name on that note should have had a little weight to it. He is highly involved in the state and everyone knows he loves this state. It should have gotten the senator out or, at the very least, sent out a response note. He could have done that.”
Burau said he understood that Hicks may have been busy with legislative work.
“I appreciate that he was doing legislative work at the moment, but to be ignored for almost a half hour, especially when we were in a standing room only crowd that was introduced to the senate,” Burau said. “It was really disappointing to wait that half hour and see all the other senators come out and greet their constituents.”
Burau said he is exactly the person that House Bill 134 appeals to because he came as a tourist first and, because he and his wife fell in love with Wyoming, they opened a business in Saratoga.
“This bill gives tourism a chance to speak to a broader audience that brings more travelers here,” Burau said. “Some travelers come here and fall in love with this state and open a business here. I am that story. I came here and opened Firewater where I employ close to 40 people, pay taxes here and it happened because I was a tourist first.”
Burau pointed out that the lodging tax would be paid mostly by out-of-state visitors.
“It is a tax that is mostly paid by tourists and it will put money back into the general fund,” Burau said. “This tax will pay for the Office of Tourism and it will free up $26 million dollars for the general fund.”
He said the $26 million that would have gone to the Wyoming Office of Tourism (WOT) for support is now freed up by the tax. Burau also likes that WOT will not have to worry about its budget getting cut as it has for the past several years.
Burau said most visitors seldom notice the percentage on a bill when paying.
“I never look at bills when I am traveling to see how much the lodging tax is,” Burau said. “You go to places like Las Vegas, California, Colorado or other neighboring states, Wyoming is not expensive at all. So I really don’t think there will be any blowback from this. In my opinion it is a win-win situation.”
He said that tourism allows for many benefits to the state and local economy.
“I opened this restaurant because I was a visitor here, so I can speak in real terms how valuable it is to this local economy, this county where Hicks is a senator. I can speak to the value of tourism because I have lived it.”
The Saratoga Sun reached out to Senator Hicks to get his response and by press time, there has been no reply.