A North Idaho retiree’s push to force a voter referendum on this year’s Idaho transportation funding bill – which includes a 7-cent gas tax increase that takes effect July 1 – has fallen far short. Alan Littlejohn of Athol needed to gather 47,432 signatures by today to trigger a voter referendum; he turned in just 32, more than half of them from members of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee.
“I believe that any time you want to tax somebody, the taxpayers should have the voice to say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” Littlejohn said. “That’s just me.” But in his first attempt at getting a rare voter referendum on Idaho’s ballot, he wasn’t prepared for the big job or the short time frame. Referenda must be filed, with all the necessary signatures, within 60 days after the final adjournment of the legislative session in which the law passed. The transportation bill, HB 312a, passed on April 10, the last day of this year’s legislative session, after weeks of hearings and negotiations and a rare House-Senate conference committee.
Referenda are rare in Idaho, but most notably were successfully used to overturn the controversial “Students Come First” school reform laws in 2010. The transportation bill, which had been in the works since at least 2008, raises $95 million a year toward Idaho’s $262 million annual backlog in road and bridge maintenance. The measure also includes a “surplus eliminator” that at this point looks like it will raise close to another $50 million for road and bridge maintenance next year, through a share of state surplus funds. It marks the first time Idaho’s gas tax has been increased since 1996; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.