BOISE - North Idaho lawmakers successfully pushed approval of a highway bonding program through the joint budget committee this morning, a move welcomed by Gov. Butch Otter.
“I think it’d be nuts to drop the program in the middle - let’s finish these projects,” said Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls.
Hammond and Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, proposed an $82 million statewide bonding program. That’s down from the $125 million Otter originally proposed, but Otter has switched one of the projects, a Boise freeway interchange, to federal economic stimulus funds; that accounts for the difference.
Clete Edmunson, Gov. Butch Otter’s transportation adviser, said, “The governor believes that $82 million still allows him to accomplish his goals, which is, we started these projects, we need to finish ‘em.”
The plan won the support of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on a 14-6 vote. Two other North Idaho lawmakers had proposed their own versions of the plan - Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, calling for the full $125 million in bonding, and Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, proposing a $50 million bonding plan - but Keough backed Hammond’s successful measure.
Keough said stopping the bonding program would mean wasting the millions already invested into environmental approvals on bond-funded projects like the Garwood-to-Sagle project on Highway 95 in North Idaho. “If we leave those things on the shelf, they become dated,” she said.
Broadsword told the joint committee that between the federal economic stimulus and the bond program, which borrows against the state’s future federal highway allocations to fund big projects up-front now, “We are going to see a boost to our economy in the state that we can’t expect in future years.”
The bill authorizing the bonding still needs approval from both houses and the governor’s signature to become law.
Said Edmunson, “We’re going to work with the Senate and the House to make sure that gets through.”