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Otter won’t propose any road funding improvements in coming year

Gov. Butch Otter, in response to yesterday’s action by his transportation funding task force, says he won’t propose any transportation funding increases in 2011. Otter, in a news release, said the task force called for “delaying revenue enhancements for now.”

In its all-day meeting yesterday, the task force debated proposed wording in an initial draft of its resolution calling for making $543 million in improvements to Idaho’s roads and bridges “when the Governor and the Legislature have determined that the economy of Idaho has improved to the extent that economic conditions allow an increase in transportation funding,” with several members calling for removing that economic-trigger language, saying it wasn’t their business to dictate timing to the governor and Legislature. Task force member Gordon Cruickshank said, “I guess I look at that as what happens if the economy doesn’t improve? We’re basically saying if it doesn’t improve, we’re not going to do anything.”

After much discussion on that point, the task force moved on to other issues, but never resolved whether it’d remove the part about when the economy improves. It ended up staying in the resolution, which still is going through final edits.

“Our transportation needs are real and growing, and the safety of Idaho citizens remains one of our highest priorities,” Otter said in his news release. “But too many people remain jobless, under-employed or on the ragged edge financially to impose higher costs on them right now. I won’t ask the Legislature to approve any funding increases in 2011, but the task force has provided us with a path forward while we keep doing all we can to get people back to work by growing our economy.” Click below to read the governor’s full news release, which came out last night at 8 p.m.

Lake: ‘We chose a cautious way out’

Here’s  a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today’s final recommendations from Gov. Butch Otter’s transportation funding task force, which were 18 months in the making. House Tax Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, cast the only vote against the task force’s final  resolution. “I wanted the task force to come up with specific recommendations to fund enhancements for the Department of Transportation - we didn’t do it,” Lake said. “I think that we chose a cautious way out.” Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, disagreed. “We’ve identified the problem, we’ve identified the tools - that was our task,” she said. “Now that goes to the governor and the Legislature.”

While stopping short of calling for any specific revenue increases or any specific timeline for them, the task force said Idaho needs to spend $543 million a year more on its roads, and it laid out a prioritized list of two dozen possible ways to raise the money, topped by increasing the state’s gas tax.

Task force: ‘Our work is done’

The governor’s transportation funding task force also has agreed to support a legislative task force’s recommendation to permanently restore to the Idaho Department of Parks & Recreation the 3 percent share of gas taxes that it’s long been receiving for trails, reflecting the amount of gas that’s burned off-road in ATV’s, boats, snowmobiles and the like.  An end-of-session compromise on transportation funding two years ago sought to shift that money to ITD, but lawmakers then agreed to put that off until July 1, 2011; this recommendation would reverse it permanently, should the Legislature follow it. Task force members said there’s no need for them to address how to fund the Idaho State Police as a legislative task force will address that; they were the other, larger piece of that funding shift. The task force agreed that that portion of the shift should continue.

When Lt. Gov. Brad Little asked for unanimous consent to all items in the task force’s final resolution, only Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, objected. “OK, with one objection they’re accepted,” Little said.

“Task force members, I think our work is done,” Little told the panel. He added, “One of the things that makes Idaho a great state and makes us very competitive is how hard it is to raise taxes.” But he said being proactive to address major needs also distinguishes the state, versus other states that end up having to do things like release prison inmates due to budget shortfalls. “Frankly I’m very pleased at how things came out today,” Little said. “I think we’ve come up with a  roadmap. I think we’ve acknowledged how difficult it’s going to be.”

Task force: ‘We can’t do it now’

Rather than come up with specific proposals to raise gas taxes, registration fees or other revenue sources, the governor’s transportation funding task force has opted to simply send along a matrix it agreed to earlier in which it defined and prioritized the various ways the state could raise hundreds of millions more for roads. Increasing fuel tax is at the top of the list. The task force also has agreed to forward a recommendation from its cost allocation subcommittee to consider phasing over several years any moves to correct equity between how much cars and heavy trucks pay for roads; included a call for re-examining distribution formulas to local highway jurisdictions; and noted a subcommittee’s list of possible ways to fund public transportation in the long term, including local-option taxes.

This goes along with the task force’s determination that Idaho needs $543 million a year more to address its transportation needs. “Chairman Lake was exactly right - we can’t get there from here with the fuel taxes and things in the economy that we have,” said task force member Jim Kempton. “There may be a time in the future we can do it. We can’t do it now.”

No decisions yet, but plenty of disagreement

No decisions yet. House Tax Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, noted that if Idaho were to raise its gas tax enough to fund the whole $540 million-plus need the governor’s transportation funding task force has identified, “We’d be facing a 66 cent a gallon fuel tax increase. I don’t think there’s a person on the committee that thinks that’s realistic.” House Transportation Chair JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, said, “Realistically, if you’re going to go through the committee and ask them to raise the gas tax, you’re going to run into reluctance to do it higher than the states around us. So how much can we do that? … This is difficult.”

Other task force members said all options need to be looked at, not just gas tax hikes. But they disagreed on whether their recommendation should be for what should be done when the economy improves, or what should be done when the governor and Legislature think the time is right, or what. Task force member Gordon Cruickshank said, “I guess I look at that as what happens if the economy doesn’t improve. … We’re basically saying if it doesn’t improve we’re not going to do anything.”

Little: ‘Now things get more interesting’

The governor’s transportation task force has been wordsmithing by committee various “whereas” clauses in its proposed resolution, on things like how funding for local highway jurisdictions should fit needs, rather than just follow a distribution formula. Some districts have dozens of bridges, for example, while others have only a few. Up next: The actual recommendations on how to fund stuff.

“Now things get a little more interesting,” said Lt. Gov. Brad Little.

Some task force members wary of any suggestion trucks underpay

Several members of the governor’s task force are expressing squeamishness over wording in their proposed resolution that calls for the state to “move toward a more balanced system of cost responsibility between broad classes of vehicles, but … do so in a way that does not place an undue financial burden on a single class of highway users or hamper the competitiveness of Idaho businesses.” Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said he wanted that statement removed. Jim Riley, a task force member, said he thinks the system’s already balanced now, between how much trucks and cars pay - despite the findings of a cost-allocation study that the task force voted unanimously to accept, and which found that currently, cars and pickups overpay for their wear and tear on the roads, and heavy trucks underpay.

Riley recommended deleting any reference to “move toward a more balanced system” and just saying the state should “maintain a generally balanced” system. Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, said the wording made sense as-is; task force member Jim Kempton, who chaired the subcommittee on cost allocation, agreed. House Transportation Chair JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, said what lawmakers went through on the weight-distance tax on trucks was “agonizing,” and “We really thought we had it worked out well,” but that proved not to be the case. “I think there needs to be some correction, no doubt about it,” Wood said. She said she recognized some members’ “discomfort,” and would support Riley’s proposal. “I know we’ve got to work on it,” Wood said.

After much debate, Kempton proposed that the clause say “maintain a balanced system,” and the panel generally agreed.

Road needs: $543 million

The total figures being tossed around by the governor’s task force on transportation funding are big: $262 million to operate, preserve and restore the current road system, both at the state and local level; plus $281 million needed for “capacity and safety enhancement” at both levels. That’s a total of $543 million. The figure is the average the 14 task force members’ responses on a survey. “I think it’s the first time that the total numbers really have been presented in a way that the public can understand it,” said task force member Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian. “$240 million … was a maintenance budget. I think these numbers indeed reflect a more accurate picture of what the need is. Now, whether it gets funded at that level is another question, but I think it accurately depicts the need.”

Road funding: How to fill in the blanks

The governor’s transportation funding task force has begun working through a proposed resolution - which currently contains lots of blanks - on what it should recommend for future road funding in Idaho. Among its clauses: One saying that federal funding likely “will remain essentially flat for the foreseeable future and cannot be relied on to solve the lack of adequate transportation funding in Idaho.”

Instead, the resolution, as currently drafted, declares “that when the Governor and the Legislature have determined that the economy of Idaho has improved to the extent that economic conditions allow an increase in transportation funding, that the Idaho legislature pass and the Governor of Idaho sign legislation that will increase revenue for transportation in the amount of (blank).” That’s then followed by a long list of fill-in-the-blank options, from gas tax and registration fee increases to a weight-distance tax on trucks.

Road funding debate to start at 12:45

The governor’s transportation funding task force has been kicking around some questions about how it should fashion its recommendations, but hasn’t yet begun debating the specifics - that’ll happen this afternoon. Lt. Gov. Brad Little, the task force chairman, is passing out a draft resolution with some blanks in it for task force members to ponder over their lunch break. Because the meeting is running ahead of schedule, the task force will reconvene at 12:45 after its lunch break to start debating things like gas tax hikes, taxes on car rentals, increases in car registration fees and the like.

$1-a-month surcharge on car insurance could make up lost ISP funding

Idaho could impose a $1 per month surcharge on auto insurance policies and raise $19.4 million a year - enough to replace the millions in funding for Idaho State Police that ISP would lose if a planned shift off the gas tax takes effect, to redirect those gas tax funds to transportation; that shift already has been delayed once. Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, co-chairman of the task force on alternative funding for the Idaho State Police and state parks and recreation, told the governor’s task force on transportation funding just now that that was one of his task force’s top two choices for funding ISP, with vehicle registration fees being the other. The panel held off on making any recommendation, though, to let the governor’s task force decide first if it wanted to do anything with registration fees or the like.

Cameron said his task force backed permanently restoring gas tax funds to parks and recreation. The share of those funds reflects gas burned in ATV’s, boats and other off-road vehicles. He said once the governor’s task force makes its recommendations, his task force will reconvene and make its final recommendations.

New ITD management system set to go live

ITD Deputy Director Scott Stokes is briefing the governor’s transportation task force on efficiency moves at ITD. The agency’s goals are safety, mobility and economic vitality, Stokes said. Its new computerized management systems - a key recommendation from a legislative audit - “begin going live on Dec. 17,” Stokes said. “That is a huge step for Idaho.” The systems will allow ITD to better track the condition of roadways and bridges around the state, he said. “We can see and quantify the heartbeat, blood pressure and stress levels of our system in real time,” Stokes said.

Study: Local highway jurisdictions need local-option tax authority

The state’s Local Highway Technical Assistance Council held a “local highway efficiency summit” in October and completed a study of efficiency at Idaho’s local highway districts. The results, LHTAC administrator Lance Holmstrom told the governor’s transportation task force this morning, showed that “local highway jurisdictions are actually doing quite well” at meeting an efficiency standard of addressing 1/20th of paved miles in their jurisdictions each year. However, the study found that they need more funding to do sufficient reconstruction and rehab on roads and bridges to avoid continued deterioration. It also found that additional funding should be based on needs in specific jurisdictions, not just spread around to all. The study’s recommendations included giving local highway jurisdictions “authority to develop alternative funding options,” such as local-option sales taxes.

Transportation task force opens final meeting with ‘lot of work to do’

The governor’s transportation funding task force has convened its final meeting this morning in the state Capitol. “We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Lt. Gov. Brad Little, the task force chairman, told members as the meeting opened. First off this morning, the task force is hearing reports on efficiency at local highway districts and at the Idaho Transportation Department. It’ll also discuss funding options for Idaho State Police and state parks and rec, after a shift of gas taxes away from those was proposed, then delayed. By the end of the meeting this afternoon, the task force is scheduled to settle on its recommendations - how to fund transportation in Idaho now and into the future. Those recommendations will go to Gov. Butch Otter and the state Legislature.

Otter, Allred on car-truck fee study

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today’s meeting of Gov. Butch Otter’s transportation funding task force, which voted unanimously to accept a new state-commissioned cost-allocation study showing car owners are overpaying for Idaho roads while heavy trucks underpay, but expressed strong reservations about raising fees for trucks. Here’s Otter’s reaction to today’s task force action:

“The cost allocation study is a helpful starting point, not an end. We have to put its findings in context. 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.”

And here’s the reaction of Otter’s Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, who’s called for cutting Idaho’s gas tax by 3 cents a gallon and raising truck fees to make up the difference: “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.”

Cars pay more, trucks pay less, and Idaho’s road-funding gap grows

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how Idaho motorists are paying more and more of the cost of maintaining the state’s roads, while drivers of heavy trucks are paying less, according to a new state study,  though the trucks are causing far more damage to the roads; meanwhile, Idaho faces a “widening gap” between its road funding and its needs, experts told Gov. Butch Otter’s transportation funding task force Tuesday, and task force members said the most promising source to fill that gap is a gas tax increase, the very thing Otter failed to persuade lawmakers to endorse for two years running.

Trucks vs. cars on pavement damage

Consultant Patrick Balducci of Battelle Group told the governor’s transportation funding task force just now that axle weights matter, not just total weight of a truck compared to total weight of a car, when calculating impact on pavement damage. But, under questioning from committee members, he said the rule of thumb is that one fully loaded axle on a big truck is equal to the pavement damage of 10,000 passenger cars. Task force members were stunned. “It’s been measured,” Balducci told them. “For years, millions of trucks have been measured. These are engineering calculations that have been studied by the federal government beginning in the 1950s and continuing today.” When task force member Jim Riley asked what the difference might be if that figure were off by 25 percent - say, if a loaded truck axle were equal to just 7,500 passenger cars - Balducci said that would be contrary to “50 years of research on the part of the Federal Highway Administration.”

Reasons for the car-truck fee disparity…

Part of the reason for the big disparity between heavy trucks and cars in Idaho on paying their fair share for roads: The repeal of the weight-distance tax in 2001, as a result of a lawsuit. Since then, heavy trucks have paid only registration fees. Idaho’s last formally published highway cost-allocation study in 2002 didn’t fully reflect that change, consultant Patrick Balducci told the governor’s transportation funding task force today. An unpublished state highway cost allocation study in 2007 showed figures between the 2002 study and the new one, he said, which provides additional evidence of the trend toward cars paying more and trucks less.

Another factor: More construction, partly as a result of the GARVEE bonding program. When pavement or bridges are replaced in major construction projects, more of the cost of that is allocated to trucks than to cars, Balducci explained, “because of the ratio between axle weights and pavement damage.” That’s as opposed to costs for signals or general highway operations, which are attributed more equally to all types of vehicles. Also, the bonding program was focused on the interstate system, Balducci noted, which sees more heavy-truck travel. He also noted on big trucks the “data that they’re going to do much more damage than the lighter vehicles.”

EOB: Idaho cars overpaying, trucks underpaying for roads

The trend in Idaho is clear, according to a new highway cost-allocation study presented to the governor’s transportation funding task force today: “More and more overpayment on the part of automobiles and pickup trucks, and more underpayment on the part of combination trucks.” That’s what consultant Patrick Balducci of Battelle Group told the task force just now. More here/Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise

New study: Idaho cars overpaying, trucks underpaying

The trend in Idaho is clear, according to a new highway cost-allocation study presented to the governor’s transportation funding task force today: “More and more overpayment on the part of automobiles and pickup trucks, and more underpayment on the part of combination trucks.” That’s what consultant Patrick Balducci of Battelle Group told the task force just now. There are a few different ways to look at the numbers. When the full picture of federal and state funding is taken into account, along with the impact of the GARVEE bonding program, the disparity looks even worse: Drivers of passenger cars are overpaying by 47 percent compared to their cost of wear and tear on the roads, drivers of pickups are overpaying by 18 percent, and drivers of combination semi-trucks are paying only 67 percent of the cost they create, a 33 percent underpayment.

Little: ‘We really do need this’

Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who is chairing the governor’s transportation funding task force, says it could well be that a gas tax hike - which Gov. Butch Otter failed to convince state lawmakers to impose despite two years of pleas - could end up being the task force’s recommendation, or a big piece of it. “When you look at the rankings … it ranked highest in fairness and cost-effectiveness, and it’s ready to go. You’re not hiring one state employee. We know it’s imperfect, particularly when a Chevy Volt gets 80 mpg,” Little said. But, he said,  Otter instructed the task force that “everything’s on the table.” Little said, “I think we’ve got our arms around what we think the needs are going to be. This is a big deal - you’ve got to put in a long-term plan to implement it. Having a credible messenger that comes and says, ‘We really need this,’ that’s a big part of it. We really do need this.”

Task force member: ‘We’re way behind’

Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, who serves on Gov. Butch Otter’s transportation funding task force, had this thought on the task force members’ overwhelmingly ranking a gas tax increase as the top potential funding source for road fixes in Idaho: “This was the first cut of opportunities. There’s a lot of folks that are on this task force who have not been through the minutiae … of what it’s going to take to get us to $250 million or $300 million. We can’t raise gas taxes enough. We can’t raise registrations enough. We can’t tax rental cars enough. I think the rest of the task force is going to come to the same conclusion we in the Legislature did - wow, we’re way behind, and we maybe need to start to incrementally fix this. But I don’t believe we’re going to have one big fix here.”

Gas tax hike top choice of task force members

The governor’s transportation task force, after its last meeting, asked all 14 of its members to rank the various potential funding sources for transportation in Idaho on everything from fairness to public acceptance, and the results show a fuel tax increase came out on top. With a 1 cent per gallon fuel tax increase, Idaho could raise $8.2 million a year for roads. The second and third top choices both were variations on a gas tax increase: ranking second was a sales tax on the fuel wholesale price, which would raise $22.5 million a year; and third was indexing the current gas tax, which is 25 cents per gallon, to inflation. If that had been done in 1996 and tied to the Consumer Price Index, Idaho would be raising $73.8 million more a year, and the tax would be up to 34 cents per gallon.

Ranking fourth for the task force was a new excise tax on rental car fees, to raise about $1 million a year; and ranking fifth was a three-tiered increase in vehicle registration fees, closely followed by a tiered increase in fees on heavy trucks; each would raise about $5 million a year. Ranking seventh was indexing passenger vehicle registration fees to inflation; and eighth was local-option registration fees. The top 10 proposals were rounded out by a weight-distance tax on trucks, which could raise $60 million annually; and a permit system for electric vehicles. Things like toll roads, high-occupancy toll lanes and congestion pricing weren’t ranked highly by the panel. Lt. Gov. Brad Little, the chairman, said, “From a practical standpoint as far as generating revenue in the near future, I think it’s the collective wisdom of this task force that we not spend a lot of time on ‘em. … These are revenue sources whose time has not come yet.”

Toll roads for Idaho?

The hottest topic among states seeking transportation funding is imposing tolls on interstate freeways, consultant David Hartgen told the governor’s transportation task force this morning. It’s currently not allowed outside of demonstration projects, but he said he wouldn’t be surprised to see it permitted to some extent in the next federal transportation bill.

Idaho actually has a higher percentage of its travel on interstates than other states, Hartgen said, and could raise $42 million a year by charging 1 cent a mile for cars and 4 cents a mile for trucks. “It’s relatively easy to administer through a booth approach or electronic systems,” he said. Nationally, “It’s certainly the No. 1 item right now in terms of potential sources of new revenue. … The issue here in Idaho, frankly, is the volume of traffic,” which may not be high enough in the short term for toll roads to be attractive.

Road funding: ‘A widening gap’

Transportation consultant David Hartgen said he doesn’t think Idaho’s revenues for transportation will get much higher than 3 percent annual growth, given current funding sources, and they could drop well below that “if economic circumstances don’t turn around.” The result: A “widening gap” by the end of this decade between needs and funding that could hit $250 million, and that “obviously requires some attention.” Other states also are facing similar issues, he said; from 2008 to 2010, 94 legislative proposals passed around the country, with the largest number, 23, dealing with bonding, followed by fuel tax changes, and smaller numbers on private-sector projects, vehicle registration fees, toll roads, and shifting funds from other areas.

New concepts like fees for vehicle miles traveled, congestion pricing or carbon taxes haven’t advanced at all, Hartgen said. “Interestingly enough, there’s been almost no movement - a lot of talk, but no movement. … A lot of stuff that’s gotten attention in the press and in the trade publications regarding the future of transportation funding hasn’t moved yet into the legislative forum.”

‘Guess we do sort of look alike’

As the governor’s transportation task force opened its all-day meeting this morning, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, the panel’s chairman, warned members that they were about to have “an out of body experience” with the first speaker, David Hartgen. The reason: He’s the twin brother of state Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, who introduced his brother, an emeritus professor of transportation studies at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and president of The Hartgen Group. David Hartgen shared some analysis of the economic impact of highways with the task force, but first he said of his brother, “I guess we do sort of look alike,” and joked, “It was a lot of fun serving in the Legislature this last year.” Perhaps even more than their physical resemblance, the sound of the two brothers’ voices is eerily similar.

Idaho road funding boost now about half what was expected

The $54 million transportation funding compromise that ended Idaho’s second-longest legislative session this year has now shrunk to about $28 million, far less than Gov. Butch Otter said was needed right away to keep Idaho’s roads up to par. First, a joint legislative task force recommended delaying a $21.1 million funding shift from parks and the state police to road work until July of 2011. Now, the other bills that passed this year, from removing an ethanol exemption to creating new truck-trailer plates for out-of-state firms to buy, are bringing in significantly less money than anticipated.

An increase in fees for driver’s licenses, titles and the like is now expected to bring in $11.5 million, instead of $13.1 million, as recession-weary Idahoans opt to renew their licenses and registrations for shorter periods of time. Repeal of the ethanol exemption is raising $15.4 million, about $1 million less than expected. And legislation estimated to raise $5 million a year from new truck-trailer plates is now expected to raise just $500,000; it’s brought in only $105 so far. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

A political question? Or a factual one?

Idaho wants to know whether owners of heavy trucks and cars are paying their fair share for roads. A previous study on the subject suggested heavy trucks underpay and owners of cars and pickups pay too much in transportation fees and taxes. But problems with data that suggested the study might not be valid prompted the state transportation director to scrap it in 2007. This time, Idaho will follow the examples of other states, using new Federal Highway Administration methodology that recently worked well for Nevada and appointing an advisory committee from all sides to oversee the study, as Oregon did.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said he’s all for that. “You’ve got to have those folks sitting at the table,” he said. “Even if they believe they’re being in one way or another knocked out of balance … they should all be considered, and we shouldn’t be afraid of that information.” In Oregon, the question of whether cars and trucks paid their fair share became so political that voters in 1999 amended the state constitution to require highway cost allocation studies every two years, with the Legislature tasked to adjust taxes or fees based on the results to keep things equitable. Oregon state economist Tom Potiowsky said the system has worked well there, where representatives of the state’s trucking association, the AAA, counties and experts serve on an advisory committee to oversee the study; he chairs the panel. The committee can’t change the results, which are developed by an outside consultant.

“You have the stakeholders in the room together, they’re seeing how the sausage is made, and they have input based on their opinions,” Potiowsky said. “They understand they are only advisory, but I think it makes for a richer outcome. Over time, it has reduced the politics.” You can read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review.

A rerun of this year’s legislative session, this time in 2011?

Longtime Idaho political observer Jim Weatherby says Gov. Butch Otter’s decision to have his transportation funding task force present its recommendations in December 2010 - a year and a half from now - could lead to a rerun of this year’s difficult legislative session in 2011. In November of 2010, every seat in the Legislature is up for election.

“I’m surprised,” said Weatherby, political scientist emeritus at Boise State University. “What I heard during this legislative session was the importance to address the maintenance need as a public safety issue. It’s interesting to me that this is deferred until just a month after the election. It would seem to me to make more sense, maybe not politically, when you’re talking about raising taxes, but in terms of public safety and addressing our deteriorating roads, that those issues be laid on the table and discussed during the campaign, before candidates again, as they did in the last election, lock themselves into a position of opposing any tax increase. … It seems to me it has the potential of a rerun of the session we just had.”

Otter’s transportation funding task force won’t report ‘til 2011 session

Gov. Butch Otter today named his task force to find solutions for transportation funding in Idaho - but said they’ll bring their recommendations forward in December of 2010. That means nothing for the next legislative session - the election-year session that starts in January of 2010. “Obviously, there’s a lot of work to do,” Otter said when asked about the time frame. “That gives them plenty of time.” The 15-member task force, he said, is “not going to hurry into anything - all options are on the table.” Asked if his announcement means he won’t be proposing transportation funding legislation - tax or fee increases - next year as he did this year, Otter said, “It doesn’t mean I will, and doesn’t mean I won’t.” He said lawmakers “made a good point” when they complained that transportation already was getting lots of funding this year, between the big investments from the federal economic stimulus and GARVEE bonding. “Perhaps we have enough money for a while,” Otter said. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Senate Transportation Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell, who joined Otter in answering reporters’ questions after the groundbreaking ceremony today for the 10-Mile Interchange on I-84 in Meridian, said, “The task force the governor put together is not a one-year or a two-year look at transportation in Idaho - it’s looking into the future. So hopefully we take the time to do it right.”

Otter noted that a legislative task force looking into replacement funding for gas taxes that now go to fund the Idaho State Police and parks and recreation could well propose legislation next year. Here’s the governor’s 15-member task force: It’ll be chaired by Lt. Gov. Brad Little. Members will include McGee; House Transportation Chairwoman JoAn Wood, R-Rigby; Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson; Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint; Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise; Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello; Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian; Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot; Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls; Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise; Idaho PUC Chairman Jim Kempton; Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce Chairman Mark Bowen; Valley County Commissioner Gordon Cruickshank; and Intermountain Forest Association President Jim Riley.