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 Tuesday, 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 believe it’s a necessary one,” Otter declared
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 them now.”
He said the governor’s plan would create “hundreds, possibly thousands of jobs.”
Otter said, “I can’t ever remember when I ever took the lead in raising taxes on anything for any purpose.” But he said this time, he’s convinced it’s needed. Otter 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.”
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.
Next year, that would provide an extra $3.2 million for roads; by 2014, it’d be $16.9 million.
•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 a year 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. That bill would raise $16 million next year and $60 million a year by 2014.
•Eliminate the current ethanol exemption, to save about $4.1 million a year.
Otter estimates the package would raise close to $47 million the first year, and $174 million a year by the fifth year, though the figures in his bills add up to slightly less than that.
As the House Transportation Committee considered introducing the bills, Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, said, “I want it known that during these tough times, this is not an easy vote.”
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.
Otter, who took his plan on the road to seven public meetings around the state over the summer, said he’s convinced the state needs to enact it regardless of any federal economic stimulus package, because Idaho’s roads are deteriorating so badly.
“No matter what’s in that stimulus package, it doesn’t absolve us from our responsibility to take care of ourselves right here in the state of Idaho, and do the right thing within the state of Idaho,” Otter declared.
“Will that factor in? We’re just going to have to wait and see. … I’m not planning to lay one foot of asphalt with money I don’t have.”