Sen. Jack Riggs heaved a sigh of relief Thursday as the Senate passed his bill that would leave the fate of U.S. Highway 95 in the hands of Idaho voters.
“I feel I got beat up a little bit, but not too bad,” the Coeur d’Alene Republican said after the 23-11 vote.
Riggs’ proposal would place a statewide advisory measure on the November ballot. Voters would tell lawmakers their opinion on raising car registration fees to upgrade Highway 95 and other roads. Then the issue would return to the 1999 Legislature for action.
Knowing he wouldn’t get enough Senate votes during this legislative session to raise registration fees, Riggs agreed Tuesday to the advisory vote amendment.
This isn’t the first time Riggs’ bill has gotten a face lift. Last week, the measure was amended to include fees on trucks.
Several senators argued Thursday that the advisory vote “dodges bullets” and derails efforts to fix highways.
Sen. Stan Hawkins, R-Ucon, said if voters disagree with raising registration fees, the Highway 95 debate will die.
“If this fails, even because of confusion, it’ll be a long time before anything happens on Highway 95,” Hawkins said before voting against the measure.
Some senators, such as Robert Lee, R-Rexburg, opposed the bill because they said the cash would go to fix North Idaho roads, which is unfair to southern Idaho residents.
Increasing registration fees would raise about $380 million for the road upgrades.
“About 81 percent goes to Nampa north,” Lee said. “Only 19 percent is going to the rest of the state. How can you expect our people to support the bill?”
Sen. Evan Frasure said he supports repairing Highway 95 but said his Pocatello constituents will vote against the advisory measure, leaving him with a tough decision.
The Republican, who heads the Senate Transportation Committee, said instead of pushing an advisory vote, the state should wait to see if it gets more federal money.
The U.S. Senate passed a federal transportation funding bill Thursday that would give Idaho an additional $80 million. The U.S. House is expected to vote on a transportation bill sometime in the next few weeks.
“It’s a sizable chunk of change, and I think (Highway) 95 will benefit heavily from that,” Frasure said.
But Riggs said Idaho can’t count on federal cash.
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said the advisory vote is a good way to move forward.
“I like to go on long, windy drives, but that’s what we do best in District 1,” Keough said. “We’ve been waiting a long, windy time.”
The House Transportation Committee will tackle the bill sometime early next week, Riggs said.
With Reps. Hilde Kellogg, R-Post Falls, and Don Pischner, R-Coeur d’Alene, on that committee, Riggs said he feels fairly confident the bill will make it to the full House for a vote.
“I’m comfortable putting this plan out to the public,” Riggs said. “If there is overwhelming defeat, we’ll look for a new approach. I don’t want to force it on them. However, I think they’ll like it.”
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