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Eye On Boise

Posts tagged: road funding

Otter won’t propose any road funding improvements in coming year

Gov. Butch Otter, in response to yesterday’s action by his transportation funding task force, says he won’t propose any transportation funding increases in 2011. Otter, in a news release, said the task force called for “delaying revenue enhancements for now.”

In its all-day meeting yesterday, the task force debated proposed wording in an initial draft of its resolution calling for making $543 million in improvements to Idaho’s roads and bridges “when the Governor and the Legislature have determined that the economy of Idaho has improved to the extent that economic conditions allow an increase in transportation funding,” with several members calling for removing that economic-trigger language, saying it wasn’t their business to dictate timing to the governor and Legislature. Task force member Gordon Cruickshank said, “I guess I look at that as what happens if the economy doesn’t improve? We’re basically saying if it doesn’t improve, we’re not going to do anything.”

After much discussion on that point, the task force moved on to other issues, but never resolved whether it’d remove the part about when the economy improves. It ended up staying in the resolution, which still is going through final edits.

“Our transportation needs are real and growing, and the safety of Idaho citizens remains one of our highest priorities,” Otter said in his news release. “But too many people remain jobless, under-employed or on the ragged edge financially to impose higher costs on them right now. I won’t ask the Legislature to approve any funding increases in 2011, but the task force has provided us with a path forward while we keep doing all we can to get people back to work by growing our economy.” Click below to read the governor’s full news release, which came out last night at 8 p.m.

Lake: ‘We chose a cautious way out’

Here’s  a link to my full story at on today’s final recommendations from Gov. Butch Otter’s transportation funding task force, which were 18 months in the making. House Tax Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, cast the only vote against the task force’s final  resolution. “I wanted the task force to come up with specific recommendations to fund enhancements for the Department of Transportation - we didn’t do it,” Lake said. “I think that we chose a cautious way out.” Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, disagreed. “We’ve identified the problem, we’ve identified the tools - that was our task,” she said. “Now that goes to the governor and the Legislature.”

While stopping short of calling for any specific revenue increases or any specific timeline for them, the task force said Idaho needs to spend $543 million a year more on its roads, and it laid out a prioritized list of two dozen possible ways to raise the money, topped by increasing the state’s gas tax.

Task force: ‘Our work is done’

The governor’s transportation funding task force also has agreed to support a legislative task force’s recommendation to permanently restore to the Idaho Department of Parks & Recreation the 3 percent share of gas taxes that it’s long been receiving for trails, reflecting the amount of gas that’s burned off-road in ATV’s, boats, snowmobiles and the like.  An end-of-session compromise on transportation funding two years ago sought to shift that money to ITD, but lawmakers then agreed to put that off until July 1, 2011; this recommendation would reverse it permanently, should the Legislature follow it. Task force members said there’s no need for them to address how to fund the Idaho State Police as a legislative task force will address that; they were the other, larger piece of that funding shift. The task force agreed that that portion of the shift should continue.

When Lt. Gov. Brad Little asked for unanimous consent to all items in the task force’s final resolution, only Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, objected. “OK, with one objection they’re accepted,” Little said.

“Task force members, I think our work is done,” Little told the panel. He added, “One of the things that makes Idaho a great state and makes us very competitive is how hard it is to raise taxes.” But he said being proactive to address major needs also distinguishes the state, versus other states that end up having to do things like release prison inmates due to budget shortfalls. “Frankly I’m very pleased at how things came out today,” Little said. “I think we’ve come up with a  roadmap. I think we’ve acknowledged how difficult it’s going to be.”

Task force: ‘We can’t do it now’

Rather than come up with specific proposals to raise gas taxes, registration fees or other revenue sources, the governor’s transportation funding task force has opted to simply send along a matrix it agreed to earlier in which it defined and prioritized the various ways the state could raise hundreds of millions more for roads. Increasing fuel tax is at the top of the list. The task force also has agreed to forward a recommendation from its cost allocation subcommittee to consider phasing over several years any moves to correct equity between how much cars and heavy trucks pay for roads; included a call for re-examining distribution formulas to local highway jurisdictions; and noted a subcommittee’s list of possible ways to fund public transportation in the long term, including local-option taxes.

This goes along with the task force’s determination that Idaho needs $543 million a year more to address its transportation needs. “Chairman Lake was exactly right - we can’t get there from here with the fuel taxes and things in the economy that we have,” said task force member Jim Kempton. “There may be a time in the future we can do it. We can’t do it now.”

No decisions yet, but plenty of disagreement

No decisions yet. House Tax Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, noted that if Idaho were to raise its gas tax enough to fund the whole $540 million-plus need the governor’s transportation funding task force has identified, “We’d be facing a 66 cent a gallon fuel tax increase. I don’t think there’s a person on the committee that thinks that’s realistic.” House Transportation Chair JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, said, “Realistically, if you’re going to go through the committee and ask them to raise the gas tax, you’re going to run into reluctance to do it higher than the states around us. So how much can we do that? … This is difficult.”

Other task force members said all options need to be looked at, not just gas tax hikes. But they disagreed on whether their recommendation should be for what should be done when the economy improves, or what should be done when the governor and Legislature think the time is right, or what. Task force member Gordon Cruickshank said, “I guess I look at that as what happens if the economy doesn’t improve. … We’re basically saying if it doesn’t improve we’re not going to do anything.”

Little: ‘Now things get more interesting’

The governor’s transportation task force has been wordsmithing by committee various “whereas” clauses in its proposed resolution, on things like how funding for local highway jurisdictions should fit needs, rather than just follow a distribution formula. Some districts have dozens of bridges, for example, while others have only a few. Up next: The actual recommendations on how to fund stuff.

“Now things get a little more interesting,” said Lt. Gov. Brad Little.

Some task force members wary of any suggestion trucks underpay

Several members of the governor’s task force are expressing squeamishness over wording in their proposed resolution that calls for the state to “move toward a more balanced system of cost responsibility between broad classes of vehicles, but … do so in a way that does not place an undue financial burden on a single class of highway users or hamper the competitiveness of Idaho businesses.” Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said he wanted that statement removed. Jim Riley, a task force member, said he thinks the system’s already balanced now, between how much trucks and cars pay - despite the findings of a cost-allocation study that the task force voted unanimously to accept, and which found that currently, cars and pickups overpay for their wear and tear on the roads, and heavy trucks underpay.

Riley recommended deleting any reference to “move toward a more balanced system” and just saying the state should “maintain a generally balanced” system. Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, said the wording made sense as-is; task force member Jim Kempton, who chaired the subcommittee on cost allocation, agreed. House Transportation Chair JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, said what lawmakers went through on the weight-distance tax on trucks was “agonizing,” and “We really thought we had it worked out well,” but that proved not to be the case. “I think there needs to be some correction, no doubt about it,” Wood said. She said she recognized some members’ “discomfort,” and would support Riley’s proposal. “I know we’ve got to work on it,” Wood said.

After much debate, Kempton proposed that the clause say “maintain a balanced system,” and the panel generally agreed.

Road needs: $543 million

The total figures being tossed around by the governor’s task force on transportation funding are big: $262 million to operate, preserve and restore the current road system, both at the state and local level; plus $281 million needed for “capacity and safety enhancement” at both levels. That’s a total of $543 million. The figure is the average the 14 task force members’ responses on a survey. “I think it’s the first time that the total numbers really have been presented in a way that the public can understand it,” said task force member Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian. “$240 million … was a maintenance budget. I think these numbers indeed reflect a more accurate picture of what the need is. Now, whether it gets funded at that level is another question, but I think it accurately depicts the need.”

Road funding: How to fill in the blanks

The governor’s transportation funding task force has begun working through a proposed resolution - which currently contains lots of blanks - on what it should recommend for future road funding in Idaho. Among its clauses: One saying that federal funding likely “will remain essentially flat for the foreseeable future and cannot be relied on to solve the lack of adequate transportation funding in Idaho.”

Instead, the resolution, as currently drafted, declares “that when the Governor and the Legislature have determined that the economy of Idaho has improved to the extent that economic conditions allow an increase in transportation funding, that the Idaho legislature pass and the Governor of Idaho sign legislation that will increase revenue for transportation in the amount of (blank).” That’s then followed by a long list of fill-in-the-blank options, from gas tax and registration fee increases to a weight-distance tax on trucks.

Road funding debate to start at 12:45

The governor’s transportation funding task force has been kicking around some questions about how it should fashion its recommendations, but hasn’t yet begun debating the specifics - that’ll happen this afternoon. Lt. Gov. Brad Little, the task force chairman, is passing out a draft resolution with some blanks in it for task force members to ponder over their lunch break. Because the meeting is running ahead of schedule, the task force will reconvene at 12:45 after its lunch break to start debating things like gas tax hikes, taxes on car rentals, increases in car registration fees and the like.

$1-a-month surcharge on car insurance could make up lost ISP funding

Idaho could impose a $1 per month surcharge on auto insurance policies and raise $19.4 million a year - enough to replace the millions in funding for Idaho State Police that ISP would lose if a planned shift off the gas tax takes effect, to redirect those gas tax funds to transportation; that shift already has been delayed once. Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, co-chairman of the task force on alternative funding for the Idaho State Police and state parks and recreation, told the governor’s task force on transportation funding just now that that was one of his task force’s top two choices for funding ISP, with vehicle registration fees being the other. The panel held off on making any recommendation, though, to let the governor’s task force decide first if it wanted to do anything with registration fees or the like.

Cameron said his task force backed permanently restoring gas tax funds to parks and recreation. The share of those funds reflects gas burned in ATV’s, boats and other off-road vehicles. He said once the governor’s task force makes its recommendations, his task force will reconvene and make its final recommendations.

New ITD management system set to go live

ITD Deputy Director Scott Stokes is briefing the governor’s transportation task force on efficiency moves at ITD. The agency’s goals are safety, mobility and economic vitality, Stokes said. Its new computerized management systems - a key recommendation from a legislative audit - “begin going live on Dec. 17,” Stokes said. “That is a huge step for Idaho.” The systems will allow ITD to better track the condition of roadways and bridges around the state, he said. “We can see and quantify the heartbeat, blood pressure and stress levels of our system in real time,” Stokes said.

Study: Local highway jurisdictions need local-option tax authority

The state’s Local Highway Technical Assistance Council held a “local highway efficiency summit” in October and completed a study of efficiency at Idaho’s local highway districts. The results, LHTAC administrator Lance Holmstrom told the governor’s transportation task force this morning, showed that “local highway jurisdictions are actually doing quite well” at meeting an efficiency standard of addressing 1/20th of paved miles in their jurisdictions each year. However, the study found that they need more funding to do sufficient reconstruction and rehab on roads and bridges to avoid continued deterioration. It also found that additional funding should be based on needs in specific jurisdictions, not just spread around to all. The study’s recommendations included giving local highway jurisdictions “authority to develop alternative funding options,” such as local-option sales taxes.

Transportation task force opens final meeting with ‘lot of work to do’

The governor’s transportation funding task force has convened its final meeting this morning in the state Capitol. “We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Lt. Gov. Brad Little, the task force chairman, told members as the meeting opened. First off this morning, the task force is hearing reports on efficiency at local highway districts and at the Idaho Transportation Department. It’ll also discuss funding options for Idaho State Police and state parks and rec, after a shift of gas taxes away from those was proposed, then delayed. By the end of the meeting this afternoon, the task force is scheduled to settle on its recommendations - how to fund transportation in Idaho now and into the future. Those recommendations will go to Gov. Butch Otter and the state Legislature.

Otter, Allred on car-truck fee study

Here’s a link to my full story at on today’s meeting of Gov. Butch Otter’s transportation funding task force, which voted unanimously to accept a new state-commissioned cost-allocation study showing car owners are overpaying for Idaho roads while heavy trucks underpay, but expressed strong reservations about raising fees for trucks. Here’s Otter’s reaction to today’s task force action:

“The cost allocation study is a helpful starting point, not an end. We have to put its findings in context. The study will help inform policy makers as we determine the need and how to address it. But we also must answer such policy questions as whether to include GARVEE funding, whether to include federal funding or whether to look at state funding alone in determining a path forward under the study.”

And here’s the reaction of Otter’s Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, who’s called for cutting Idaho’s gas tax by 3 cents a gallon and raising truck fees to make up the difference: “Idaho families can’t afford to subsidize the heavy trucking industry in times like these. We need a governor who works for Idaho families, not his political contributors.”

Cars pay more, trucks pay less, and Idaho’s road-funding gap grows

Here’s a link to my full story at on how Idaho motorists are paying more and more of the cost of maintaining the state’s roads, while drivers of heavy trucks are paying less, according to a new state study,  though the trucks are causing far more damage to the roads; meanwhile, Idaho faces a “widening gap” between its road funding and its needs, experts told Gov. Butch Otter’s transportation funding task force Tuesday, and task force members said the most promising source to fill that gap is a gas tax increase, the very thing Otter failed to persuade lawmakers to endorse for two years running.

Trucks vs. cars on pavement damage

Consultant Patrick Balducci of Battelle Group told the governor’s transportation funding task force just now that axle weights matter, not just total weight of a truck compared to total weight of a car, when calculating impact on pavement damage. But, under questioning from committee members, he said the rule of thumb is that one fully loaded axle on a big truck is equal to the pavement damage of 10,000 passenger cars. Task force members were stunned. “It’s been measured,” Balducci told them. “For years, millions of trucks have been measured. These are engineering calculations that have been studied by the federal government beginning in the 1950s and continuing today.” When task force member Jim Riley asked what the difference might be if that figure were off by 25 percent - say, if a loaded truck axle were equal to just 7,500 passenger cars - Balducci said that would be contrary to “50 years of research on the part of the Federal Highway Administration.”

Reasons for the car-truck fee disparity…

Part of the reason for the big disparity between heavy trucks and cars in Idaho on paying their fair share for roads: The repeal of the weight-distance tax in 2001, as a result of a lawsuit. Since then, heavy trucks have paid only registration fees. Idaho’s last formally published highway cost-allocation study in 2002 didn’t fully reflect that change, consultant Patrick Balducci told the governor’s transportation funding task force today. An unpublished state highway cost allocation study in 2007 showed figures between the 2002 study and the new one, he said, which provides additional evidence of the trend toward cars paying more and trucks less.

Another factor: More construction, partly as a result of the GARVEE bonding program. When pavement or bridges are replaced in major construction projects, more of the cost of that is allocated to trucks than to cars, Balducci explained, “because of the ratio between axle weights and pavement damage.” That’s as opposed to costs for signals or general highway operations, which are attributed more equally to all types of vehicles. Also, the bonding program was focused on the interstate system, Balducci noted, which sees more heavy-truck travel. He also noted on big trucks the “data that they’re going to do much more damage than the lighter vehicles.”

New study: Idaho cars overpaying, trucks underpaying

The trend in Idaho is clear, according to a new highway cost-allocation study presented to the governor’s transportation funding task force today: “More and more overpayment on the part of automobiles and pickup trucks, and more underpayment on the part of combination trucks.” That’s what consultant Patrick Balducci of Battelle Group told the task force just now. There are a few different ways to look at the numbers. When the full picture of federal and state funding is taken into account, along with the impact of the GARVEE bonding program, the disparity looks even worse: Drivers of passenger cars are overpaying by 47 percent compared to their cost of wear and tear on the roads, drivers of pickups are overpaying by 18 percent, and drivers of combination semi-trucks are paying only 67 percent of the cost they create, a 33 percent underpayment.

Little: ‘We really do need this’

Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who is chairing the governor’s transportation funding task force, says it could well be that a gas tax hike - which Gov. Butch Otter failed to convince state lawmakers to impose despite two years of pleas - could end up being the task force’s recommendation, or a big piece of it. “When you look at the rankings … it ranked highest in fairness and cost-effectiveness, and it’s ready to go. You’re not hiring one state employee. We know it’s imperfect, particularly when a Chevy Volt gets 80 mpg,” Little said. But, he said,  Otter instructed the task force that “everything’s on the table.” Little said, “I think we’ve got our arms around what we think the needs are going to be. This is a big deal - you’ve got to put in a long-term plan to implement it. Having a credible messenger that comes and says, ‘We really need this,’ that’s a big part of it. We really do need this.”

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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