The conference committee has voted unanimously to adjourn until 8 a.m. tomorrow. Before the motion to adjourn, Chairman Bert Brackett noted that when the panel left off before its last break, it was talking about the fuel tax. “I will recap where I think we are. We’ve been up and down, around the block on 312. We said OK on the surplus eliminator, conditionally. We said OK on the strategic initiative program (at ITD). And we went around on that one.”
Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, interrupted. “In talking to some of our caucus members, we still have some angst on the locals. That probably isn’t resolved yet,” he said.
Brackett then went through what the conference committee has agreed on: Adjusting proposed increases in vehicle registration fees to keep them at a flat $25 for the newest cars, but a lower 53 percent increase for older cars, which he noted in some cases is lower than what the House originally proposed; setting new fees on electric and hybrid cars at $140 and $75 respectively; and keeping fee increases on trucks at a flat $25 and on motorcycles at $10.
“My suggestion is we recess for the evening and meet again at 8 o’clock in the morning, same place,” Brackett said.
Sen. Roy Lacey, D-Pocatello, said, “I think that is a very good idea. We all need to think this over a little bit. … I think what we have discussed over the day and tha agreements that we have come to are very good. I feel bad that (House members are) ... wanting to back out (from) ... letting locals be a part of it,” on distributions from the surplus eliminator, “because locals are paying into this fund.”
Brackett said, “I just want to thank our House colleagues for all their good efforts. They expressed concern about what they could get to get off their floor. I would note that that has been a moving target and I understand that, but I can tell you that the Senate has challenges on the floor also. So I would hope that the House could be respective of that also.”
Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “I’m not as nice a person as you are, but I do respect and appreciate our House members for what they’re doing. I didn’t agree to serve on this conference committee to fail. ... I think if we fail, we do a disservice not only to the state right now and to the state’s economy, but to our children who end up picking up the tab down the road. And I think we potentially prolong this session beyond where it needs to be.”
Cameron noted the handout he distributed on tax relief bills already passed this year. “It’s real dollars and it really impacts our budgets,” he said. “I’m a little frustrated, because I feel like we have been willing to give, and have given, on numerous fronts. I came in here not willing to go into the general fund, but I’m willing to go there. I feel like on our side we have given and given and I don’t see that same give coming from the other side. If we’re not willing to reach a compromise and to have both sides give, then we’re wasting everybody’s time.”
He said, “Perhaps sleeping on it is a good idea, to give everybody a little time to think about it. My instructions are pretty clear. Our members want to make a significant dent in the shortfall. We believe the information that says if we don’t do it now, it’s going to cost us more later. That’s not hyperbole, we believe that. We believe that for us, that range needed to be in that $125 million arena.” He said if HB 95 is counted as contributing $20 million toward that, “That means you’ve got to get to somewhere around $115 million … 110 at the lowest. And the only way you get there is either with a more aggressive registration fee, so the one we proposed isn’t aggressive enough then, if you’re not going to make up the difference in gas tax.”
With the registration fees the conference committee already has agreed to, Cameron said, “It generates about $23 million.” So a 10-cent gas tax increase is needed to make up the difference, he said. “So I’m in a little bit of a quandary. I’m not willing to go to the general fund, I’m not willing to do the surplus eliminator, unless we’re going to do something significant with the gas tax. So that’s where we’re at. So perhaps cooling off is appropriate, and we can come back at it tomorrow morning.”