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Eye On Boise

Senate Transportation narrowly passes SB 1206, transportation funding bill, sends to full Senate

The Senate Transportation Committee spent lots of time debating before finally voting in favor of SB 1206, the $320 million-plus transportation funding bill, on a voice vote.. Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, moved to approve the bill, and Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, seconded the motion. There were four "no" votes, from Sens. Buckner-Webb(Rohn), Harris, DenHartog and Nonini.

Senate Transportation Chairman Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, told the committee he chairs that SB 1206 has three parts:

1 - $300 million in GARVEE bonding, borrowing against future federal highway allocations, to be spent for projects on the original list of high-priority corridors for which Idaho has used GARVEE bonds in the past. Among the corridors on the list is troubled I-84 through Canyon County.

2 – A two-year extension of the “surplus eliminator,” which otherwise expires this spring. As now, any unanticipated state surplus at the end of the year would be split between the state’s rainy-day fund and road work, through the ITD’s strategic initiatives program. Unlike the current surplus eliminator, the road money would be split 60-40, with 60 percent going to state projects, and 40 to local ones.

3 – Creation of a new Transportation Expansion and Congestion Mitigation Fund, with money to flow into that new fund from two sources: About $5 million a year from cigarette tax funds that now go to ITD for the strategic initiatives program; and a 1 percent share of the state sales tax – estimated at around $15 million – calculated after revenue sharing for local governments is taken out, so they remain whole.

The amount available from the surplus eliminator varies each year; it’s been anywhere from $21.9 million to $108.3 million in past years. Aside from that, the bill represents a $320 million investment in transportation, although the bonding would be paid for in annual payments, not up-front.

Several committee members had questions about the bill. Troy Rohn, who is filling in for Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, said, “My concern really is about the 1 percent loss to the general fund.” He asked why Brackett didn’t instead propose a two-year gas tax increase, to make sure the state has enough to fund the final two years of phase-in on the teacher career ladder, before considering other funding methods.

Brackett said, “As far as the 2 cents, yes, that would raise approximately the same or slightly more, in fact. As you know, all revenue measures must start in the House, and we have not seen a fuel tax proposal come over. I can tell you there is support for that, I don’t know how widespread, but there is support for that.”

After Sen. Lori DenHartog, R-Meridian, asked about funding for upgrading I-84 in Canyon County, Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said, “I’ve been involved in this bill in negotiating with the House and the governor’s office.” He said some of the GARVEE bonding could cover I-84. Some also could cover priority projects on Highway 95 in North Idaho, he said, including an interchange north of Coeur d’Alene.

Winder said, "I see this as a possibility of generating jobs, helping the economy."

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said she’d support the bill in committee because she wants the full Senate to be able to weigh in, but “it’s with huge reservations.” She said, “Our refusal to take a look at a gas tax is disturbing to me. If you look at the data, absent the increase that we did in the gas tax in 2015, it is a continuing source of revenue. I don’t know about you, but when I go to the gas station, gas prices fluctuate 5 to 25 cents in the course of a week to 10 days. I think it’s a pay-as-you-go tool that we are completely ignoring.”

Brackett said, "This isn't the end-all." He said lawmakers will continue to discuss these issues.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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