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.