Eye On Boise

Task force accepts cost-allocation study, but worries about impact on truckers

Gov. Butch Otter's transportation funding task force has voted unanimously to accept the state's new cost-allocation study, which shows that heavy trucks are underpaying for their wear and tear on Idaho's highways, while owners of cars and light pickups are overpaying. The panel's acceptance, however, was subject to "further refinement upon receipt of new information" by the Idaho Transportation Department, with several members noting that the study is a model for determining equity - not the answer on which way the state should go. The Idaho Trucking Association has strongly objected to the new study, which it said in a letter to a task force subcommittee is "ignoring the substantial contribution commercial trucks already make to our economy, our employment base and our highway tax structure."

The AAA of Idaho, on the other hand, welcomed the study as something Idaho "can use ... in a positive way to address equity, and also in the bigger issue of how to raise enough money" to fund "our huge underinvestment" in transportation. Said AAA government affairs director Dave Carlson, "I think the public perception is, 'Why have we been for years tending to the needs of the trucking industry to the exclusion of other highway users?'"

Several task force members expressed misgivings. Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, asked if there's any way the cost-allocation process can "build in an X factor" for things like economic and cultural concerns, "like in northern Idaho where we have chip trucks and logging trucks that pretty much enable the economy. ... If we put those trucks out of business, those communities are going to pretty much go under." ITD official Doug Benzon responded that it's a policy decision for lawmakers and the governor as to how to proceed on any changes in fees or taxes; the study, he said, "is looking at pure numbers."

Task force member Jerry Whitehead, an ITD board member and president of Western Trailers, said, "It looks to me like if we raise things higher than the surrounding states, that's really going to place a load on the intrastate carriers such as chip haulers, farmers, things like that." Darrell Manning, also a task force member and chairman of the Idaho Transportation Board, said the board will use the study, along with many other factors as it develops funding proposals. "This is only one of hundreds of tools in a very complex system," he said. "We're trying to be fair to all concerned."

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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