Idaho task force wary of hiking truck fees
BOISE - Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s transportation funding task force unanimously agreed Tuesday to accept a new state study showing heavy trucks underpay in Idaho compared to their wear and tear on roads, while owners of cars and pickups overpay, but members expressed strong reservations about raising fees for trucks.
Task force member Jerry Whitehead, an Idaho Transportation Board member and trucking company owner, said, “It looks to me like if we raise things higher than the surrounding states, that’s really going to place a load on the intrastate carriers such as chip haulers, farmers, things like that.”
Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, asked if there’s any way the cost-allocation process can “build in an X factor” for things like economic and cultural concerns, “like in northern Idaho where we have chip trucks and logging trucks that pretty much enable the economy,” he said. “If we put those trucks out of business, those communities are going to pretty much go under.”
Doug Benzon, ITD’s economics and research manager, said it’s a policy decision for lawmakers and the governor as to how to proceed on any changes in fees or taxes; the study, he said, “is looking at pure numbers.” Policy-makers, he said, could “decide we don’t want equity because of this and that.”
The task force accepted the study, prepared by Battelle Group, a Richland, Wash. consulting firm, with an important caveat: It’s subject to “further refinement upon receipt of new information” by the ITD.
Darrell Manning, also a task force member and chairman of the Idaho Transportation Board, said the board will use the study along with many other factors as it develops funding proposals. “This is only one of hundreds of tools in a very complex system,” he said.
The Idaho Trucking Association has strongly objected to the new study, which it said in a letter to the task force is “ignoring the substantial contribution commercial trucks already make to our economy, our employment base and our highway tax structure.”
The AAA of Idaho, on the other hand, welcomed the study as something Idaho “can use … in a positive way to address equity, and also in the bigger issue of how to raise enough money” to make up a road-maintenance funding shortfall.
AAA lobbyist Dave Carlson said between the new cost-allocation study, the controversy over giant truck shipments proposed for scenic U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho and Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo’s new federal legislation to allow heavier trucks on interstate freeways, people in Idaho are tuned in to the issue. “I think the public perception is, ‘Why have we been for years tending to the needs of the trucking industry to the exclusion of other highway users?’” he said.
Otter, who pushed hard for more road funding two years straight without success before deciding a year ago to form the task force and wait for its December recommendation, said, “The cost allocation study is a helpful starting point, not an end. We have to put its findings in context.”
The governor said, “The study will help inform policy makers as we determine the need and how to address it. But we also must answer such policy questions as whether to include GARVEE funding, whether to include federal funding or whether to look at state funding alone in determining a path forward under the study.”
The new cost-allocation study offers several different ways to look at the numbers. If all of Idaho’s recent big road construction projects funded by federal GARVEE bonds are counted in, the study shows that heavy trucks are underpaying by 33 percent, pickups are overpaying by 18 percent and auto drivers are overpaying by 47 percent. But if only state-funded projects are counted, the study shows cars overpaying by 8 percent and heavy trucks underpaying by 14 percent.
Either way, Otter’s Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, said, “Idaho families can’t afford to subsidize the heavy trucking industry in times like these. We need a governor who works for Idaho families, not his political contributors.”
Allred called this month for a 3-cent cut in Idaho’s 25-cent-per-gallon gas tax, and raising fees on heavy trucks to make up the difference. Otter, by contrast, unsuccessfully called on lawmakers two years ago to phase in a 10-cent increase in the gas tax and raise car registration fees while upping truck fees by 5 percent.