Gov. Butch Otter has signed HB 312a, the $95 million last-minute compromise transportation funding bill, into law. In a transmittal letter to House Speaker Scott Bedke, Otter wrote, “Something indeed is better than nothing.”
He added, “In fact, H 312 is a respectable start on a multi-year effort to provide for the long-term needs of our transportation infrastructure, including hundreds of bridges throughout Idaho that every day are reaching the end of their safe lifespans.”
Otter said he believes lawmakers now agree on the need to address Idaho’s huge road and bridge maintenance backlog, now estimated at $262 million a year; the disagreements are on how to meet the need. “That’s especially true in the context of some lawmakers’ sincere belief that transportation should get at least a share of its sustenance from the same General Fund source as public schools, higher education, Medicaid and our prisons,” Otter wrote.
“As you know, I drew a line in the sand on that question in this year’s State of the State address when I said, ‘I will NOT entertain proposals aimed at competing for General Fund tax dollars with education and our other required public programs or services.’ Some would prefer that I veto this bill because it includes a ‘surplus eliminator’ provision that will apportion half of any General Fund surplus at the end of each of the next two fiscal years to transportation.
“I get it, but I disagree.” Otter said because the bill taps general funds only after all legislative appropriations have been made for the year, “H 312 avoids the competition problem.” He added that he’s “not excited about the surplus eliminator idea,” but said, “Effective governance requires flexibility and willingness to constructively lead.”
You can read Otter’s full transmittal letter here. The $95 million figure reflects additional revenue from a 7-cent gas tax increase, plus increases in vehicle registration fees and new fees on electric and hybrid vehicles; it doesn't count additional funds that could come from the "surplus eliminator" if the state ends up with a revenue surplus the next two years.
Some have questioned how the new money can be spent when the Legislature's joint budget committee didn't also introduce a "trailer" appropriation bill authorizing the spending of the newly collected funds. The answer: Lawmakers, ITD and the governor's Division of Financial Management agreed to wait and have ITD submit its plan for the new funds as a supplemental appropriation request to lawmakers at the start of next year's legislative session, in January of 2016. ITD has authority within its budget for next year to "front-load" some of its existing appropriations to get started on early work for some of the planned projects before then.