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Eye On Boise

Senate debate: ‘Process matters,’ ‘Hidden in the bill,’ ‘More to this than I can see’

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, speaks against SB 1206, the transportation funding bill, in the Idaho Senate debate on Tuesday, March 28, 2017, (Betsy Z. Russell)
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, speaks against SB 1206, the transportation funding bill, in the Idaho Senate debate on Tuesday, March 28, 2017, (Betsy Z. Russell)

More from today’s Senate debate on SB 1206, the transportation funding bill:

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said, “I have voted for gas tax increases and registration fee increases and done so at political peril in my district, and have taken that heat at campaign time. … I’m a little saddened that I’m getting emails from home asking me if I’ve lost my mind because I’m not supporting (SB 1206) If it was 1162 (GARVEE bonding only), I’d be supporting it. … Process matters. This sausage was not made in a process that was transparent, using our germane committees, or allowing the public, the general public an opportunity to weigh in on it. It’s not just about transportation. It is, but it isn’t.” Keough said, “When you dive into this bill,” there are sunsets, or expirations, being lifted from a series of distributions from lottery and cigarette tax funds, including a diversion of lottery money into the bond levy equalization fund for school districts. Keough said her local districts want that lottery money for maintaining their facilities back, as they can’t access it now unless they pass a bond.

She also raised questions about the impact on the state budget of shifting $15 million a year out of the state’s general fund, and said on top of removal of the sales tax from groceries – which the Senate already supported – “it will be very difficult to budget.”

“There is one-time general fund money that could go to roads this year,” Keough said. “It’s sitting on the calendar on the other side of the rotunda. That money could have been out three to four weeks ago and helped communities. … That money could have been on its way to the state system and to the local system. That’s general fund money, $50 million dollars of general fund money. So to say that we haven’t put general fund money into roads would be a misnomer. We have that opportunity, this body passed it, but for some reason it’s not where it needs to be on the roads.”

Keough also distributed a chart on how much the state takes in from gas taxes. While much has been said about gas tax as a decreasing funding source, she said, it’s actually been “a pretty consistent source of funding.” Gas tax can’t fund everything, she said, but she contended it should at least be a part of the discussion, and this year, it’s not.

“Many of you know that I commute from Coeur d’Alene to Sandpoint and back,” Keough said. “I’m a crazy person, I commute 110 miles round trip every day between Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint. And I can tell you as I watch that there is a 25 cent a gallon difference between the cost of gas in Sandpoint and the cost of gas in Coeur d’Alene. I think we have room to raise the gas taxes. It’s a user pay system, it’s a user fee system, and it’s one that our taxpayers, although they are begrudging about it, admit that they are running on the road, and they should be paying for the maintenance they are asking for us for and for the expansion that they are asking us for.”

“Process matters,” Keough said. “We had a couple of great senators work really hard on it, but most of us were not part of this process, and the public was not part of this process. And I am dismayed, but I cannot support this bill.”

Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, said he opposes SB 1206 because of the removal of the sunsets on the various fund diversions, including the lottery funds. “You don’t see that in this bill, it’s hidden,” he said. “That sunset is removed and we create a permanent distribution of those lottery funds. ... I don’t like this habit that we’ve gotten into of taking money from one fund and moving it into another fund. It’s too hard to track.”

Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said, “There is more to this than I can see, and if I’m going to choke down this sausage, I want answers. I want to know every piece of the deal, and I don’t . So I can’t vote for this.”

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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