Senate Transportation Chairman John McGee’s message to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this morning had a marked difference from that of his House counterpart, House Transportation Chairwoman JoAn Wood, who addressed the panel last week. Wood said her idea was that Idaho should use the federal economic stimulus money to pay off GARVEE bonds, and then put the money that would have gone into payments on the bonds into rural road maintenance. “Stimulus money cannot be used to replace GARVEE dollars,” McGee told JFAC. “As we’ll hear on Friday, it certainly can’t be used to pay off the debt - there are simply too many strings attached.” JFAC will hold a hearing Friday on the federal stimulus money for transportation and how it could impact Idaho, and hear from its budget analysts who’ve been reviewing that.
McGee told the joint committee, “I believe the stimulus money should be used on one-time projects that would never get done otherwise … projects like the Dover Bridge … projects all over the state.” Between the stimulus funds and the GARVEE bonding program, which builds big projects by borrowing against future federal highway allocations, Idaho has the opportunity to create 3,000 jobs at a time when the state’s reeling from the sudden jump in unemployment. Asked by panel members whether it might not be a better approach to hold off on GARVEE bonding and turn to stimulus money for the projects that otherwise would have been up for bonding, McGee said no. “You reduce the bang for the buck in terms of the economy that you would have,” he said. “I don’t know the next time we’re going to have an $182 million infusion into our transportation system in Idaho.”