Idaho Senate votes for gas tax hike
BOISE - The Senate has voted 21-14 in favor of HB 96 as amended, which not only removes an ethanol exemption from fuel tax, but now also raises Idaho’s gas tax by 3 cents per gallon next year and another 3 cents the following year, and raises an array of DMV fees.
That raises $65 million a year in state and local road funding by the second year, beyond the estimated $4 million to $20 million a year from the ethanol change. Senate Transportation Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell, told the Senate, “Now we have an opportunity to have our say on what this body thinks we should do.” McGee noted that Idaho’s gas tax, the main source of funding for road maintenance, hasn’t been raised since 1996. “Simply stated, we’re trying to build 2009 roads in 1996 dollars,” he said. The money raised by the bill, he said, would be for road maintenance, not to build new roads, like the funding Idaho is getting from the federal economic stimulus and from highway bonds.
Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, told the Senate, “My constituents want good roads, they want to be able to travel. … This takes money.” Schroeder said his constituents back a gas tax increase, to make roads safe for University of Idaho students to drive home and to keep the state’s road system adequate to meet the needs of business and commerce. He also noted that gas prices between towns in his district vary by as much as 11 cents per gallon, which the hike would only add 3 cents next year and 3 cents the year after. Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, said, “Individually it’s a pretty small sum, but collectively it’s enough money to get us started on the problem.” Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, asked, “Are we going to wait for another bridge collapse like what happened in Minneapolis? … We have to bear the responsibility. … I’m not going to turn my back on required maintenance.”
Debating against the bill, Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said no one disputes that Idaho’s roads are deteriorating. “Now is not the time to be placing an additional burden on struggling Idaho families - it just isn’t the time to do it,” he said. Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said, “I’m concerned about our priorities, and to me, I would put our schools first, and this does not do that.” Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, said, “I don’t question that our infrastructure could use it, but I question the timing.” Seven Republicans joined all seven Democrats to oppose the bill; all North Idaho senators voted in favor. The amended bill now moves to the House for possible concurrence in the Senate amendments.