The Senate on Wednesday endorsed a controversial proposal that splits $10 million in excess fuel tax revenues between state and local road maintenance.
Senators voted 20-15 for the proposal that runs counter to Republican Gov. Phil Batt’s recommendation that the entire amount be devoted to state highway improvements.
The vote also signaled the end of any chance for agreement on a highway user fee increase to begin cutting into serious deficiencies in Idaho’s road system.
And opponents of what some lawmakers called a compromise said they would urge the new governor to veto the $5 million earmarked for cities, counties and highway districts.
As his predecessor did a year ago, Batt told lawmakers that he would veto any attempt to give the entire $10 million to local governments, but he has essentially been ambivalent on an even split.
The money is part of a $23 million reserve the Transportation Department has maintained at legislative directive to match any federal highway money that unexpectedly becomes available during the nine months lawmakers are not in session. Several recent audits have recommended that reserve be decreased by at least $10 million.
With an $8 billion backlog in road construction and maintenance work statewide, state and local agencies have been scrambling for every cent they can get their hands on.
With 38 percent of the state highway system considered deteriorated already, up from 18 percent just nine years ago, the Transportation Board, of which Batt was once a member, had hoped to devote the $10 million to bring the amount of deteriorated pavement down to about 35 percent.
“The problem is widening,” Senate Transportation Chairman Evan Frasure, R-Pocatello, said. “It’s not shrinking at all.”