Fuel tax and registration fee increases that will eventually pump $34 million more a year into Idaho’s deteriorating highway system were signed into law by Gov. Phil Batt on Tuesday.
The first three months of additional fuel tax revenue, about $6 million, is earmarked to match federal funds for repair of flood-damaged roads in North Idaho.
Because of consumer response to the increase, and the diversion of the first $6 million for flood-damaged road repairs, the package will generate only about $24 million to be split between the state and local governments during the first year.
The state’s share will be divided among 11 projects, including these in the Panhandle:
$900,000 for Highway 200 from Kootenai to Pack River.
$1 million for Highway 41 from Interstate 90 to Rathdrum.
$900,000 for U.S. Highway 95 from Moscow to Potlatch.
Batt promised there would be no additional fuel tax and registration fee increases sought during the rest of his term, which runs through 1998.
“I can guarantee you I will not ask for it during that term,” the governor said.
“How soon it will be, I don’t know.”
The controversial legislation barely squeaked through the state Senate six days ago.
Even two of the Republican leaders opposed the increases the GOP governor said were critical to protecting the state’s $16 billion investment in roads and bridges.
The highway improvement package raises the 21-cent fuel tax to 25 cents a gallon on April 1 and registration fees an average of just under $6 a vehicle beginning next year.
The product of a special legislative task force that toured the state last year, the highway improvement package overcame several obstacles in the House before winning approval by six votes last month. House Speaker Michael Simpson was the only one of the four-member House GOP leadership team to support the governor.
Then the bill got bogged down in the Senate in a dispute between the railroads and truckers over heavier truck weights and was initially killed before revived to pass on an 18-17 vote last Wednesday.
Highway officials maintained that the additional cash will allow them to reduce the more than 40 percent of Idaho’s 30,000 lane miles now considered in poor or worse condition to under 20 percent in a decade.
But critics contended that the higher tax broke faith with the GOP’s 1994 campaign pledge against any rising taxes and that the new revenue only fractionally increased the nearly $500 million already being spent on highway maintenance and construction each year.
The state’s share of other road projects during the first year the new tax money is available include:
$1.45 million for Idaho 55 from Horseshoe Bend to north of Banks.
$1.25 million for U.S. 95 from Manns Creek Road to Midvale.
$1.25 million for U.S. 30 from Buhl to Filer.
$900,000 for Idaho 75 from U.S. 20 to Bellevue.
$300,000 for Idaho 77 north of Albion.
$700,000 for U.S. 89 from Ovid to Montpelier.
$700,000 for Interstate 15B from south Blackfoot city limits to Alice St.
$1.75 million for Interstate 15 from the Osgood Interchange to the Roberts Interchange.