House members of the conference committee have come back with a counter-proposal on where to direct funds from a proposed surplus-eliminator, which would be split half-and-half between the Budget Stabilization Fund and transportation. The House members proposed rather than setting up a new fund, altering the existing Strategic Initiative Program at the Idaho Transportation Department to allow local highway projects to compete for part of the money. Also, the existing program’s governing language, which currently allows for targeting money in the fund to projects related to safety, mobility and economic opportunity, to also include “mobility including projected traffic flow improvements for freight and passenger cars, and safe routes to schools.” The committee has tentatively agreed to that change to the surplus-eliminator proposal.
Now, they’re moving on to gas tax. “Five cents sounds really good,” said Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian. The Senate amendments to HB 312 called for a 10-cent increase, phased in over the next four years – 4 cents this year, 4 cents 2 years later, and the final 2 cents two years after that. Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, responded, “I think the representative has already voted for 7 cents, so I think 7 cents is the floor.” He said lawmakers should keep in mind future needs. “I think you need to do a stepped process, or you need to do whatever number you can do and then have an index kick in,” he said. Cameron pointed to the National Highway Construction Cost Index, which tracks state transportation departments' road-building costs.