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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

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.

Eye On Boise

News, happenings and more from the Idaho Legislature and the state capital.