February 10, 2009 in Idaho

Idaho governor proposes transportation plan

By The Spokesman-Review
Betsy Russell photo

Gov. Butch Otter, his right arm in a sling, returns to the legislative battlefield after shoulder surgery, urging lawmakers to approve his transportation proposal. The plan includes increases in the gas tax and car and truck registration fees. 2/10/09
(Full-size photo)

BOISE - Gov. Butch Otter, arm bound in a sling after shoulder surgery but vigorously greeting supporters, shaking hands (with his left hand) and touting his top priority - fixing Idaho roads - spoke out on the steps of the Capitol Annex today, urging lawmakers to pass his transportation plan.

The plan - five bills that would increase Idaho’s gas tax, car registration fees and more - had just been introduced on unanimous votes in the House Transportation Committee, though some lawmakers said they had concerns about it.

“This isn’t an easy task, but I feel it’s a necessary one,” Otter declared. “I certainly put this at the top of the category of what’s necessary.”

Otter was backed by a group of about 50 supporters, including GOP lawmakers, mayors, business people, lobbyists and more.

Senate Transportation Chairman John McGee, about whom Otter said there is “no greater champion” for fixing Idaho roads, told the crowd, “We all know this is not easy, for us to think about raising new revenue … but it is essential. We face catastrophic results if we don’t fix Idaho’s roads and we don’t fix those now.” He said the governor’s plan would create “hundreds, possibly thousands of jobs.”

Otter said, “I can’t remember any time that I took pleasure in raising taxes for any purpose.” After his press conference, he said, “I hope I get both parties to pass something. I’m confident that we’ve made the right arguments in favor of this.” He said he’s willing to work with lawmakers, and welcomes their ideas. “There’s a great possibility during this process that we .. end up coming up with something better,” he declared.

The five bills Otter is proposing would:

* Phase in a shift of funding for the Idaho State Police from the gas tax to state general funds, making the gas taxes that now go to ISP available for road work.

* Impose a 6 percent daily excise tax on car rentals, raising about $2 million a year.

* Increase the gas tax by 2 cents a year each year for five years, raising an additional $17.6 million next year and $88 million by 2014.

* Increase car and truck registration fees over the next five years, while also increasing heavy truck registration fees 5 percent next year and launching a study of truck fees.

* Eliminate the current ethanol exemption, to save about $4.1 million a year.

As the House Transportation Committee considered introducing the bills, some lawmakers made it clear that they’re not yet sold on the governor’s plan. “I’m going to vote to print these today, but I want it known that during these tough times, this is not an easy vote,” Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, said. “I think the sixth bill here should be local-option authority, and we should include it.”

House Transportation Chairwoman JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, said hearings on the governor’s bills are at least a week away. “It’ll be a while, because we’ve got to introduce all the rest of ‘em,” she said, adding that she’s expecting as many as 15 other transportation proposals from lawmakers. “Oh yes, we’ve got a lot of work coming,” she said.

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