March 17, 2009 in Idaho

Otter proposes transportation compromise

By The Spokesman-Review
Betsy Russell photo

Jason Kreizenbeck, chief of staff for Gov. Butch Otter, proposes two new bills to the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday morning as part of the governor’s revised proposal to raise gas taxes and vehicle registration fees to fund road work.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE - Gov. Butch Otter has reduced his demand for a five-year, $174 million boost in transportation funding to a three-year, $130 million plan - and in response, a hastily convened House committee swiftly introduced and forwarded two new bills to the full House without hearings.

Several House Transportation Committee members said they weren’t committing to supporting the governor’s new plan - just to getting it out to the full House for a vote, long weeks after the governor first presented his transportation plan to lawmakers in January.

Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, said, “We have not compromised yet. … This is a revised plan from the governor’s office, and I think it deserves a full hearing on the full floor. I think we need to vote it up or down.”

Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said, “Because we’re not going to have full hearings on these bills in committee, I think it’s imperative that Idaho citizens contact their legislators” and say how they feel about the proposals.

The two revised bills introduced this morning would:

* Raise Idaho’s 25-cent per gallon gas tax by 3 cents next year, and 2 additional cents in each of the two following years, for a total increase of 7 cents by the third year, bringing the tax to 32 cents per gallon. That’s down from Otter’s original proposal for a five-year phase-in of a 10-cent increase. Each penny would raise $8.8 million in revenue for road work.

* Raise car registration fees over the next three years, plus raise truck registration fees by 5 percent and form a task force to look into future rates for truck fees. That measure would raise an additional $18 million next year, $39 million the following year and $43.7 million by the third year.

Jason Kreizenbeck, the governor’s chief of staff, called the votes this morning “a good gesture on behalf of the committee and the body to allow the issue to go to a vote before the whole House.” He said, “This is an issue the governor’s been talking about the whole time he’s been in office. We’ve had several hours of hearings. I think people are well-versed in it and ready to discuss it.”

Between the two new bills, a pending bill to eliminate Idaho’s ethanol exemption from the fuel tax, and Otter’s hope to shift Idaho State Police funding off the gas tax and onto the general fund, freeing up millions more for road work, the governor’s revised plan would raise an additional $130 million a year by the third year.

“We’ve attempted to find a compromise between where we were and where the Legislature was,” said Kreizenbeck. Otter originally proposed a five-year, $174 million increase in transportation funding.

House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, said, “I think the goal here is to get the bill to the floor so the representatives of the state of Idaho can weigh in on the governor’s revised plan that he is making to the Legislature. That’s what this process is about. … There’ll be a day in court for the governor’s transportation plan.”

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, complained that the legislative process was being “short-circuited” and lawmakers weren’t being given an opportunity to vote on other alternative proposals.

This morning’s special 8 a.m. House Transportation Committee meeting wasn’t included in legislative agendas posted on the Internet; the committee normally meets in the afternoon. The committee also isn’t one of the few “privileged” committees entitled to introduce bills this late in the session, but Chairwoman JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, said House Speaker Lawerence Denney had given the committee special authorization to introduce the bills today.

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