The Senate has voted 31-2 in favor of HCR 50, to launch a $550,000 performance audit of the Idaho Transportation Department. “We want to dig into what is happening out at the Department of Transportation so that we all feel more confident when the time comes, and certainly I would argue that the time has arrived, where we’re prepared to ask for more funding for our roads, bridges and infrastructure across the state of Idaho,” Senate Transportation Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell, told the Senate. Minutes later, the House voted unanimously for HB 682, a trailer bill already approved by JFAC to fund the study. The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee earlier approved a resolution to do the study, contingent on HCR 50 passing both houses.
The measure is key to negotiations between the House and Senate on transportation funding – and its passage in the Senate is a sign that progress finally is being made on that issue, which has been much debated since the start of the session. Yesterday, the House Ways & Means Committee voted unanimously to both introduce and send to the full House a $68.5 million transportation funding bill. That measure increases car registration fees by $23.5 million, fees for light trucks and trailers by $6.7 million, heavy truck fees by $11.3 million, and adds 3 cents to the fuel tax to raise another $27 million. Gov. Butch Otter had called for $200 million a year to address a backlog in road maintenance statewide, but he’s signed on to the smaller bill. “It’s a first step,” Clete Edmunson, Otter’s transportation policy adviser, told the Associated Press yesterday, adding the 2009 Legislature will likely have to take up the matter again, to raise even more. Idaho registration fees and the state’s gas tax haven’t been increased in more than a decade.