July 1, 2009 in Idaho

Funding loss would force layoffs, ISP tells legislators

Tax revenue shifted to road maintenance
Betsy Z. Russell betsyr@spokesman.com, (866) 336-2854
 
BETSY Z. RUSSELL photo

Idaho State Police Lt. Col. Kevin Johnson, the agency’s deputy director, addresses a legislative task force Tuesday in Boise.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE – If the Idaho State Police has to absorb the loss of all its gas tax funding a year from today, it won’t have anyone left to patrol the state’s roads, police officials told lawmakers Tuesday.

ISP Lt. Col. Kevin Johnson, the agency’s deputy director, said the loss of gas taxes would force ISP to lay off 204 people, including 123 troopers and numerous officers and dispatchers.

“We would essentially not be patrolling the highways,” he told a task force of state legislators charged with coming up with a way to replace the funds.

Gov. Butch Otter and lawmakers this year reached a session-ending deal in May to shift gas tax funds away from ISP and the state parks department July 1, 2010, to boost funding for road maintenance. The task force was appointed to find replacement money; if it fails, the state could dip into its general fund, but that’s the already-pinched funding source for schools, prisons and most other state agencies.

The State Police had a bevy of suggestions for the task force to make up the funding gap, focusing on new fees, taxes and surcharges on items including new cars, tires and batteries.

But state Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, a leading opponent of Otter’s proposed gas tax and fee increases this year to fund road work, said, “Right now it seems like the only solution is a tax increase, and I suspect that’s not going to pass in the House.”

Labrador said he favors cutting the state budget instead. “Government has grown over 100 percent in 10 years – I cannot believe that there’s something we cannot cut,” he said.

Idaho lawmakers already cut the state budget, including schools, this year, amid falling tax revenues.

State Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, who heads the Legislature’s joint budget committee, said, “Guess what – I think we’re going to be faced with making additional reductions, without this problem.”

If the ISP and parks funding shift hits the state’s general fund on top of its other woes, Cameron said, “You’re going to be dramatically cutting public schools, and that’s not a place I’m willing to go.”

ISP now gets roughly $17 million a year from gas taxes, which must go to the “construction, repair, maintenance and traffic supervision” of the state’s highways. That’s nearly half its total budget; it’s all spent on highway patrol. The agency’s other functions, including investigations, drug enforcement, criminal identification, forensics and alcohol beverage control, operate with a mix of other funds.

The parks money reflects an estimate of gas taxes paid on gas used in boats, snowmobiles and off-road vehicles, and goes to various recreational trail programs. Off-road enthusiasts attending Tuesday’s meeting urged the lawmakers not to gut the trail programs.


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