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Eye On Boise

Fri., May 1, 2009, 4 p.m.

Otter: ‘Legislature must act this year’

A frustrated Gov. Butch Otter said today that he doesn't know what he could have done differently to persuade lawmakers to pass his transportation plan. "We started two years ago," he said. "I've exhausted myself. ... We've tried just everything we possibly can." He still maintains strongly that the Legislature must act this year to increase funding for road maintenance. This afternoon, he issued an op-ed piece to that effect; click below to read the full article.

OPINION: MAINTAINING IDAHO ROADS IS ABOUT PROTECTING IDAHOANS’ LIVES

By Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter

Two and a half years ago I was honored to be elected your Governor. Since then I have traveled Idaho from corner to corner and met with many of you. You told me that our road system is not being adequately maintained and that something needs to be done.  I listened, and made the issue a priority because it is a legitimate and proper role of state government.

I worked with legislators and legislative leadership for two years. I supported a legislative audit that reinforced the conclusion that we are nearly $300 million behind in maintaining our transportation system.

I understand that these are difficult economic times and many of our Idaho families are struggling.  I accept the argument that a recession is no time to be increasing costs – even pay-as-you-go user fees. However, that does not eliminate the need or our responsibility to act.

When families face tough choices in their household budgets, they choose what must be done. They protect what they have. They fix their old car, pickup or tractor. They get their old boots resoled. They patch their leaking roof. They consistently invest in what they have to avoid paying a far higher price later on.

That’s why my most recent compromise proposal to legislators includes delayed implementation of fuel tax increases. It includes a 3-cent increase in Fiscal Year 2011 and another 3-cent increase in Fiscal 2012.  Along with a DMV fee adjustment and eliminating the state’s ethanol exemption, my plan would raise about $75 million a year when it’s fully implemented.

By the time the increases begin, most highway projects being financed with one-time federal stimulus money should be completed. All GARVEE projects should be authorized and most will be complete, and most of the legislative audit recommendations for improving efficiency and accountability at the Idaho Transportation Department should be implemented.

And perhaps most importantly, delaying implementation provides time to research better user-pay funding alternatives. That goes right along with the House of Representatives’ recommendation to establish an interim study committee on this issue. I have no problem with that under my delayed-implementation proposal.

But make no mistake: The Legislature must act this year to bring stability and predictability to the budgeting process with a reliable new source of revenue.

It is especially important to have our new funding stream fully in place in Fiscal 2012, because experts estimate that without it we may no longer be able to match federal highway funding with our existing state revenue. That would mean losing about $7 in federal allocations for every $1 that Idaho taxpayers provide for roads and bridges.

What’s at stake?

Every day, hundreds of thousands of Idahoans use our roads and bridges to travel to their homes, schools and work places.  Those users pay their hard-earned dollars to travel safely. Yet too many miles of our roadways are crumbling, and half of our state’s bridges are more than 50 years old and approaching or beyond their structural lifespan.

It is our shared responsibility to ensure that our families and friends – our children and grandchildren – are able to travel on the safest roads possible in our state.  Would any of us truly be unwilling to pay a few extra dollars for that peace of mind, even in the toughest of times? Aren’t our loved ones worth it?

Regardless of what you read, see or hear in the media, this is not about Democrat versus Republican, House versus Senate or Legislature versus Governor. It is an Idaho issue.  It’s an issue that is not going away, and must be addressed now.

I urge you to contact your local legislators. Thank those who are supporting reasonable solutions; encourage those who have not to support good roads. Let them know you appreciate how difficult these decisions can be. And let them know that what you truly value most is your families and friends – your safety.

I appreciate your continued patience and support for the future of Idaho.

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Eye On Boise

Short takes and breaking news from the Idaho Legislature and the state capital.