June 22, 2009

Study: Idaho car, pickup owners overpay share of fees

ITD director shelved 2007 research over validity concerns
The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE – As Idaho prepares to consider raising car or truck fees to address a huge shortfall in road funding, a 2007 state study that showed car and pickup owners pay more than their share and subsidize heavy trucks has languished.

A copy of the study, obtained Monday by The Spokesman-Review under the Idaho Public Records Law, shows that since the previous study in 2002, a rough balance between cars and heavy trucks has tilted. “Autos and pickup users are overpaying about 10 percent, while all trucks are underpaying about 10 percent,” the study found.

Draft results from the $20,000 study were presented to the Idaho Transportation Board in October 2007, but shortly after that, Pam Lowe, Idaho Transportation Department director, decided to scrap it.

Lowe said she didn’t hear from any interest groups objecting to it. Instead, she said she was concerned with statements in the study, prepared by Palouse Partners Inc. of Pullman, that suggested glitches between Idaho’s record-keeping system and the software used for the study could result in some inaccuracies.

“My own consultant was saying it might not be valid,” Lowe said.

State Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said, “I was frustrated that they didn’t finalize that cost allocation study, because it really would have been helpful in the debate.” She added, “I have a lot of confidence in ITD’s economists, and I didn’t question the methodology or the work that had been done.”

But Kathy Fowers, president of the Idaho Trucking Association, said, “We never really approved of that study. … A cost allocation study is only as good as the people who participate in it. It can be very political.”

Steps suggested in the study to address the glitches would have been complex and time-consuming, Lowe said. “It was going to take too much time. We weren’t going to get it done for the legislative session, so I just scrapped it.”

Nevertheless, word of the study’s results circulated – they’d been discussed at a public Transportation Board meeting – and led to concern over just what the study did or didn’t show.

“We have no idea how they came to their conclusions or anything,” Fowers said.

She maintains that Idaho’s truck registration fees already are high compared to other states, but a separate study of truck fees by a Denver consultant commissioned by ITD in December 2007 found Idaho’s truck taxes and fees “comparable to or below the average of surrounding states.”

Meanwhile, proposals this year to substantially raise registration fees for cars and pickups while making only small or no adjustments to truck fees raised the ire of those who said the move would worsen the inequities already identified in the study.

“We are in a time when the little guy feels that he’s expected to pay to solve the problems created by the big guys,” said Keith Allred, head of the citizen group The Common Interest.

Dave Carlson, spokesman for AAA Idaho, said, “Fair-share budgeting is a must.”

Now, Idaho is looking at launching a new highway cost allocation study. This time, the state will follow models from Nevada and Oregon, rather than relying on the software used in the 2007 study.


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