Most of North Idaho’s representatives voted against it, but the House on Wednesday passed a bill to boost Idaho’s gas tax by 4 cents and use the first $6 million to repair flood-damaged roads in North Idaho.
“Those of us from the south are willing to step up and put that $6 million in there because we’re all Idaho,” said Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee.
The bill passed on a 37-31 vote, and now goes to the Senate.
Leading the charge against it on the House floor was Rep. Jeff Alltus, R-Coeur d’Alene, who said the state Transportation Department is inefficient and shouldn’t be given any more money.
“I think we probably have enough money to fix the roads, if it was used efficiently,” Alltus said.
An interim legislative committee that held hearings across the state last summer developed the gas tax hike bill, which is aimed at a huge backlog of road maintenance across the state. It also studied the Transportation Department’s operations in detail, and recommended that the department cut 100 positions over the next three years. The department is moving ahead with that plan.
Alltus didn’t serve on that committee. Reps. Hilde Kellogg, R-Post Falls, and Marvin Vandenberg, D-Coeur d’Alene, did.
Rep. Tom Dorr, R-Post Falls, said gas taxes will get so high that “people simply won’t afford to buy cars any more,” and instead will turn to “carts and buggies.”
“So there will be some positive impact, because there will be less usage of the roads,” Dorr said.
Idaho’s gas tax now is 21 cents a gallon.
Dorr also said he considers the taxpayers the “21st department of the state of Idaho,” and said they shouldn’t be asked to pay more for road repairs unless “the other 20 departments were going to kick in.”
The bill includes an increase of about $10 in car registration fees, along with the 4-cent gas tax hike. Some lawmakers, including Vandenberg and Rep. Jim Stoicheff, D-Sandpoint, voted against it because they favored an alternative version that left off the registration increase.
That increase doesn’t hit heavy trucks, which some lawmakers said do the most damage to roads.
Rep. Don Pischner, R-Coeur d’Alene, said Idaho’s current gas taxes and registration fees are “a bargain” compared with other states, but he opposed the bill because he said he wasn’t convinced the money would be efficiently spent on road maintenance.
Reps. Alltus; Dorr; Wayne Meyer, R-Rathdrum; Pischner; Stoicheff and Vandenberg voted against the bill. Reps. Kellogg; Chuck Cuddy, D-Orofino; and Carol Pietsch, D-Sandpoint; voted for it. Rep. June Judd, D-St. Maries, missed the vote.
The $6 million should cover all the state and local matching funds required to get federal disaster money to repair North Idaho’s flood-damaged roads, according to Dwight Bower, director of the Idaho Transportation Department.
Gov. Phil Batt supports the bill. If it passes the Senate and he signs it into law, the gas tax hike would take effect April 1, and the registration fee would go up in 1997.
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