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Posts tagged: transportation funding

Batt calls on Idahoans to step up, increase funding for roads

Idaho named its state Transportation Department headquarters after former Gov. Phil Batt today, and at the ceremony unveiling the new name, Batt sent a stern message to the current Legislature and political leaders: Idaho needs to step up to fund its transportation needs, as it did for many years under many governors, but hasn’t for the past 17 years; read my full story here at Batt, who served as a senator, senate leader, transportation board member and lieutenant governor before being elected governor in 1994, pushed through the state’s last gas tax increase in 1996, and it hasn’t been raised since. That’s the main way Idaho funds its roads, and the per-gallon tax not only isn’t indexed for inflation, it’s seen declines as vehicles have become more efficient.

Batt recalled major upgrades Idaho’s roads have seen over the years, including treacherous sections of U.S. Highway 95 in North Idaho and down south, Horseshoe Bend hill, which “used to regularly develop mysterious sinking sections.” Now, he said, they’re safer, more useful highways. “These projects and others like them throughout the state cost a pile of money, but Idahoans in early days were willing to tax themselves to pay the bill,” Batt told the crowd gathered for the building renaming ceremony. But that’s now changed, he said. When the state decided to upgrade the freeway between Boise and Canyon County, it borrowed money from the federal government through GARVEE bonds. But Batt warned that federal funding can’t be relied on, and will be decreasing in the future. “We need to get together and raise the finances to take care of all our state's transportation needs, not just the Treasure Valley, and not by borrowing money – that honeymoon is over.”

Amid laughter, Batt said, “I ran as a skinflint for governor and I served as a tightwad.” But, he said, “What could be more equitable than charging users fees for our roads, gas tax and registration fees? … We’re broke – our credit card is maxed out.”

Then, abruptly, he said, “But enough of my lecture. I just wanted to thank you all for the honor, this is a great honor for me.”

Numerous speakers lauded Batt, whose accomplishments over his career included major transportation upgrades for the state, the Idaho Human Rights Act, securing long-sought workers’ compensation for agricultural workers, signing a nuclear waste agreement with the federal government requiring waste to be removed from the state, and much more. Said Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, “Gov. Batt will always be remembered for doing the right thing, even if it’s not popular at the time.” Idaho’s congressional delegation, in a letter read at the ceremony, called Batt “a true innovator in fiscal matters, infrastructure and overall leadership.” Gov. Butch Otter said to laughter, “I couldn’t say enough about Phil, and I’d spend a lot more time than the few minutes that he ever allowed me as his lieutenant governor.”

The ITD headquarters on State Street is now officially emblazoned, “State of Idaho, Transportation Department, Philip E. Batt Building.”  The ceremony included music, including Batt's compsition “Freedom Idaho,” performed by West Junior High School students; Batt, a noted jazz clarinetist, accompanied them on clarinet. Transportation Board member Jim Kempton told Batt, “I look forward to walking into this building every time I come here with your name on it.”

Several lawmakers in attendance said they took Batt’s message about transportation funding to heart. “I think he’s absolutely correct,” said Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise. House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said, “This generation cannot duck our responsibility to maintain the investment that previous generations have put into our roads, so when the time’s right, I’m optimistic that we’ll step up.”

Batt said if the gas tax set in 1996 – “two bits” a gallon, or 25 cents – were the same percentage of what people were then paying for gas, it’d be 76 cents today. “Butch has tried his best to get some funding,” Batt said after the ceremony. “It’s the legislators that wouldn’t cooperate. There’s some talk that they won’t do it again this year because it’s an election year. I never believed in that philosophy, but I understand it.”

Otter called Batt’s warning “a great message,” adding, “And I think it’s a message that you’re going to hear more about.”

Pew Center on States report: Idaho ranks middling on targeting transportation investments

Idaho ranks in the middle of the pack - one of 19 states with “mixed results” - in a new report out today from the Pew Center on the States and the Rockefeller Foundation on how states are measuring and managing their transportation investments. Washington, meanwhile, ranked in the top group of 13 states identified as “leading the way.”

Says the report, “States spent an estimated $131 billion on transportation in fiscal year 2010, but many cannot answer critical questions about what returns this investment is generating.” States scoring highest in the report are those with “goals, performance measures and data that decision makers can use to choose cost-effective policy options and ensure the likelihood of a strong return for taxpayers.” Why it matters: “Most states are entering their fourth year of the ongoing budget crisis, with revenues far below pre-recession levels and expenditures rising—and policy makers around the country are making tough choices about where to spend limited resources,” the report says. “Meanwhile, some members of Congress are proposing that the next surface transportation reauthorization act, the law that governs the largest federal funding streams for states’ transportation systems, move from a compliance-based to a performance-based approach and more closely tie dollars to outcomes.”

According to the report, Idaho's worst score came for tracking the impact of transportation investments on jobs and commerce. Click below for more.

Local-option taxes identified as best way to fund transit

A subcommittee of Gov. Butch Otter’s transportation funding task force on public transportation has come back to the full panel with recommendations for allowing local-option taxes, including local sales taxes, an expanded resort tax for larger cities or counties, property tax options and impact fees. “The committee didn’t feel there’s dollars available to have some kind of a state-sponsored funding program,” David Bennion, subcommittee chairman, told the full panel. State Sen. Shawn Keough, who served on the subcommittee, said the group decided “our job is to provide a toolbox full of tools and then let the people in that area decide what works for them … through the ballot box.” Lt. Gov. Brad Little praised the subcommittee’s work, saying if the state is going to look at transportation needs for the next 20 years, that look has to include public transportation. The full task force voted unanimously to accept the subcommittee’s report “for consideration at a later time.”

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.”

Keough: ‘Mine are on the record’

As the governor’s transportation funding task force opened its meeting this morning, one member, Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, took the opportunity to formally disclose a possible conflict of interest. She both made a statement and submitted a written notice, noting, “My private sector employer is the Associated Logging Contractors of Idaho. My employer may be impacted by the work of this committee. I want to formally and publicly disclose this potential conflict of interest and uphold the state Senate rules and my oath of office.”

Lt. Gov. Brad Little, the task force chairman, responded, “We appreciate that, senator - we appreciate all transparency in the governmental process, and that will be duly noted.” Asked about the conflict disclosure during a break in the task force meeting, Keough said, “I’ve always been up-front about mine and mine are on the record.”

No Idaho roads fix this year…

The governor’s transportation funding task force has wrapped up its third all-day meeting, but it won’t be proposing any road fixes in the upcoming Idaho legislative session. The panel set its next meeting for Feb. 18th. “They’re not going to propose anything for this legislative session in terms of revenue increases, but they are going to use the legislative session as a task force and with the Senate and House transportation committees to do some more work,” said Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, a task force member. The group still is struggling to define the need, and bogged down today on questions of whether needs are being uniformly defined. Though the task force was scheduled to come up with proposed revenue-raising concepts for discussion at its next meeting, “We didn’t get there,” Keough said. You can read my full story here at

How we’re falling short on roads…

Tom Cole, chief engineer for the Idaho Transportation Department, is presenting figures to the governor’s task force on how much the state is falling behind on preservation and restoration of state and  local roads and bridges. If our goal as a state were just to keep the system in the condition it’s in now, he said, we’re short $211 million a year. If our goal is to get away from the “worst-first” approach to fixing roads and start gradually improving their condition, we’re $270 million a year short.

Preservation and restoration, he said, are “the kind of things we do just to keep the roads open,” from fixing potholes and seal-coating roads to plowing snow. It may include some upgrades required to keep roads up to current standards, but not expanding their capacity by adding lanes or anything like that.

Neighbor state found success in light rail funded by local-option tax

Light rail has been a big success in Salt Lake City, transportation consultant Tom Warne told Idaho’s governor’s transportation task force, in response to questioning from panel members including state lawmakers. The system has been largely funded by incremental increases in the sales tax in Salt Lake County, he said; those voter-approved hikes required just simple majority approval. “The ridership numbers are way more than anyone projected. … The public is very, very supportive and likes it.” He added, “Now, transit never makes money - nor do highways, for that matter. … But the fact is that people like it enough that they want to support it and continue subsidizing it.”

What Utah did…

The governor’s transportation funding task force got an overview of a “Utah case study,” looking at what that state did to increase transportation funding. It started with a year and a half-long “growth summit” in 1995, which involved citizens across the state in envisioning how best the state should cope with growth. A statewide poll found that 48 percent of Utahns felt that roads were Utah’s No. 1 growth problem. Eventually, the state developed the Centennial Highway Fund, to complete 41 specific highway projects statewide. It was funded by a 5 cent gas tax increase, a large federal transportation funding increase that came through at the time, billions in state general funds, millions in local contributions, and a state sale of billions in general obligation bonds. It covered a 10-year building program.

“It had very specific projects, and it had a lot of local support,” consultant Tom Warne, former Utah transportation director, told the task force. “At the end of the day this was a very bought-into project by the Legislature … supported by the Legislature and the governor.” Plus, he noted that the process that developed the plan was “very engaging for the public.” He said, “Citizens are willing to pay for transportation if there is a plan that includes projects, a schedule and a limit on the tax increase.”

Most states holding off on transportation funding hikes due to budget shortfalls

Transportation consultant Tom Warne is now reviewing what other states are doing to solve their transportation funding problems: Rental car fees - sometimes very significant ones; sales tax increases; tolls; vehicle taxes; state and local gas tax hikes; and more. However, more than half of states experienced negative budget growth in fiscal year 2009, he noted, which meant they were struggling for money in general. “Most states are very hesitant about doing anything with transportation funding in this climate,” Warne said.

The governor’s transportation funding task force has been charged by Gov. Butch Otter to report back by December of 2010 - that’s a full year away, and after the next election.

Little new fed transportation funding likely to arrive from Congress

The next transportation funding bill to pass Congress likely won’t bring much of a bump to Idaho in funding, transportation consultant Tom Warne told Gov. Butch Otter’s task force on transportation funding this morning. The bill likely won’t be for as many years as past transportation bills, possibly only covering two years, and it will include more regulation and new requirements on ITD, he said. “I don’t see a significant increase in federal funding, honestly. There might be a little tweak.” He added, “I think you probably can’t rely on them to solve your problems.”

Idaho relies on feds for transportation money

Idaho ranks 12th in the nation for relying on federal aid to fund its transportation program, according to transportation consultant Tom Warne, at 52 percent. State fuel tax supplies 26 percent, and registration fees, 13 percent. The least reliant states are Wyoming, 13 percent, and Oregon, 17 percent.

Expert: Toll roads won’t work in Idaho

Toll roads are among the top proposals supported by the Obama Administration for increasing transportation funding, transportation consultant Tom Warne told Gov. Butch Otter’s transportation task force, but, he said, “There are places like Idaho and Utah where there’s probably limited opportunity for toll roads, let’s just be honest. … That’s just not going to work.”

Overall, he said, “The most important message I can share with any state leaders is that they cannot rely on the federal government to solve their transportation problems. Each state must take control of its own transportation future.”

‘Huge need to invest in transportation’

Gov. Butch Otter’s transportation task force has opened its third meeting this morning, with a full house. First up is a presentation from Tom Warne, former director of the Utah Department of Transportation and now a transportation consultant, on the regional and national transportation funding picture. “I’m not here to tell you how Idaho should do this,” he told the group. “There are decisions you’ll have to make as elected officials.”

He noted some stats: From 1990 to 2007, Idaho’s population grew 48.6 percent, its vehicle miles traveled grew 55 percent, and its roadway capacity grew by just 3.3 percent. Utah’s numbers are similar, and that’s the situation nationwide, he said. “There is this huge need for us to invest in the transportation system just to keep it in a functional condition.”

Guv’s transportation funding task force to hold third meeting

Gov. Butch Otter’s transportation funding task force will hold its third meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 2, starting at 10 a.m. at the J.R. Williams Building in Boise. A national consultant and former Utah transportation director will make a presentation about transportation funding across the country; you can see the full agenda and other info here. The task force is in the midst of an 18-month study of options for adequately funding transportation in Idaho; it’s due to report back to the governor by December of 2010. “The individuals, families and businesses using our highways also are financing them. They deserve real assurance that they are getting what they pay for from our vital transportation corridors,” Otter said.

Otter says his task force will put ‘reality behind the rhetoric’ on transportation

Gov. Butch Otter’s transportation task force has released its agenda for its second meeting, which is coming up on Thursday, as part of an 18-month review and report back to the governor on transportation funding now and in the future. Though the panel’s report isn’t due back until Dec. 1, 2010, Otter says he “would welcome the task force’s findings and recommendations as soon as they are ready.” Said the governor, “The individuals, families and businesses using our highways also are financing them. They deserve real assurance that they are getting what they pay for from our vital transportation corridors. The task force will put some reality behind the rhetoric about maintaining and improving our roads and bridges, and about what it will take to keep our people safe and economically competitive.” Click here to see the agenda for the all-day meeting and more info on the task force.

What a difference a week makes…

When I left Boise a week ago, it was 100-plus degrees. While I was gone, it turned unseasonably cool and rainy with flash flooding, and now it’s settling down somewhere in between. Among the news developments of the week (I’m still catching up): On Tuesday, Gov. Butch Otter agreed to shift $2.1 million from the state’s rainy-day fund to purchase childhood vaccines through January 2010, at the request of a joint legislative task force. “The $2.1 million that we are putting in will only get us to January, so I am hopeful that their task force and some of the other legislative work can provide an ongoing protocol and an ongoing program to provide the necessary vaccines for the citizens of Idaho,” Otter declared. The move came as Idaho’s system for vaccinating kids was thrown into turmoil due to budget cuts, at a time when the state’s immunization rate is the lowest in the nation.

On Thursday, Otter launched his transportation task force’s first meeting, saying that though the panel will look broadly at transportation funding issues and report back in December of 2010, it’s OK to make recommendations earlier, too. “I’m prepared to move as soon as you are prepared to move,” Otter told the group. “We don’t have to wait 18 months.” Meanwhile, Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey wrote an interesting Sunday story here about why and how Otter’s transportation initiatives have failed so far.

The Lewiston Tribune reported Saturday that this year’s legislation from Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, requiring Fish & Game to ask other states if they want any of Idaho’s wolves drew responses from 20 states - all saying “no.” And Blake Hall’s former seat on the state Board of Education has been filled; Otter’s choice to finish the remaining eight months in Hall’s term is Emma Atchley of Ashton, a former teacher and school board member, University of Idaho Foundation board member and GOP activist.

On a sad note, the intensive search that was on for a missing 8-year-old boy, Robert Manwill, ended with the recovery of his body from a canal and a homicide investigation; the little boy’s funeral took place over the weekend. And Idaho’s unemployment rate increased again in July to 8.8 percent, the highest in 26 years. The modern-day record is 9.4 percent, recorded from October 1982 to February 1983.

Guv’s transportation panel sets first meeting for Aug. 6

Gov. Butch Otter’s transportation task force will hold its first meeting on Aug. 6, next Thursday. The governor’s named the panel his “Task Force on Modernizing Transportation Funding in Idaho.” Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who chairs the task force, said, “Our first meeting will largely be an organizational one, but we intend to make substantial progress this year and return to work after the 2010 legislative session.” I’ll be gone on vacation all next week, so I won’t be covering that one, but I’m interested to hear what comes out of it. I will be back in time for the next meeting of the joint legislative task force that’s trying to fill the hole created by this year’s legislation eliminating gas tax funding for the Idaho State Police and for trails programs in state parks; they’ll meet the following Tuesday, Aug. 11, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Click below to read the full announcement about the governor’s task force’s initial meeting, which includes a link to the agenda. The meeting is open to the public.

A catch in the session-ending transportation funding deal…

More than 30 years ago, Idaho’s boaters, snowmobilers, dirt-bikers and ATV riders made a deal: They’d give up their gas tax refunds for gas burned off-road if the state would direct that tax money to trails, boat launches and the like. It worked. While farmers and log-truck drivers still get refunds for gas taxes paid on gas that actually gets burned off-road, off-road recreationists don’t, but they benefit from $4.8 million a year that goes to waterways improvements, off-road trails, park roads and bridges and search and rescue.

Now, however, a session-ending deal between lawmakers and Gov. Butch Otter to divert that gas tax money to road maintenance has the recreationists steamed. “If they want to take that back, then give us the refunds back,” said Tom Crimmins, a Hayden Lake trails consultant and retired forester. And if the state needs more money for road work, he said, it should raise the gas tax. Crimmins spoke out at the last state Parks Board meeting in Boise, and motorized recreation groups around the state are organizing to oppose the funding deal. “There’s going to be some petition drives, we’ll probably have some bumper stickers and buttons,” Crimmins said. And when a special legislative task force starts meeting later this summer to address possible alternative funding sources for parks and for the Idaho State Police, which also would lose millions in gas tax funding a year from now under the deal, “We plan to be there en masse,” Crimmins said.

The recreationists are particularly upset because during this year’s legislative session, they successfully worked to raise their own ATV registration fees from $10 to $12 a year. The increase, which takes effect Jan. 1, will go half to law enforcement, and half to the state Department of Lands, to offset any damage caused by off-road recreation on state lands.

“I think they have a legitimate concern,” said state Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, one of eight members of the special legislative task force. Hammond said when he voted for the road deal, he wasn’t aware of the history behind the trail funding. “At that point in the session, you’re almost willing to vote for anything to get out of there,” he said. “Now we have to face the fact that we have some real issues that we created as a result of that, and we’ve got to fix it. It’s going to be tough.” You can read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review; the legislative task force holds its first meeting June 30.

Legislative task force sets first meeting

The eight-member legislative task force that was created this year as part of a session-ending transportation funding deal between Gov. Butch Otter and lawmakers has set its first meeting for June 30 at 10 a.m. at the Capitol Annex. The panel is charged with identifying alternative funding sources for the Idaho State Police and the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, which are scheduled to lose millions in gas tax funding on July 1, 2010, with that gas tax money to instead shift to road work. Here’s who’s on the legislative panel: It will be co-chaired by Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, and Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, the two lawmakers who also chair the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. Task force members include Sens. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston; Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls; and Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello; and Reps. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry; Raul Labrador, R-Eagle; and Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow.

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About this blog

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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