When a sweeping transportation funding bill calling for hundreds of millions in bonding, local-option taxes, funding shifts and an array of other moves to fund improvements to Idaho roads fell one vote short in a Senate committee yesterday, Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who long has been an advocate of improving Idaho roads, was among the “no” votes.
Here’s why: Keough said Idaho’s road system should remain “user pay,” and gas taxes – which traditionally have funded Idaho roads – should be increased if roads need improvements, rather than dipping into state general funds. That’s also been Gov. Butch Otter’s position.
“Schools don’t have a gas tax, Health and Welfare doesn’t have a gas tax, DEQ doesn’t have a gas tax,” said Keough, who chairs the Idaho Legislature’s joint budget committee. “They don’t have a tool like the gas tax. Taking the money out of the general fund diminishes the potential funding for every other agency.”
She said, “We certainly have a need, and we ought to address the need. But I think we should start the first week of the session in the germane committees – everybody put the ideas on the table with pieces of legislation that the public can see and comment on.” She said people in her district – the northernmost in the state – couldn’t get to Boise with less than 24 hours notice to comment on the proposals.
Keough said she wants action on transportation, but, “It just needs to be a more open and inclusive process for everybody.”
She also raised constitutional concerns about the big funding bill, SB 1188, on two grounds: That it could violate the single-subject rule by incorporating so many different proposals; and that revenue measures, such as the bill’s provisions on exempting road materials from sales tax and granting local-option tax authority, are required to start in the House, rather than in the Senate. In past years, she said, “There was foot-stomping” over that point.
Keough said, “It’s a user pay thing, and users ought to pay through the gas tax – whether it’s diminishing or not.”