BOISE – Gov. Butch Otter is touting fee increases he says will help raise an additional $202 million annually by 2011 to maintain Idaho’s roads and bridges, including a plan for substantially higher registration fees for cars.
In addition to those hikes, proposals discussed at a meeting Tuesday of the House and Senate transportation committees to increase money for roads also include a 4 percent rental car tax and increasing fees on commercial truckers.
The Idaho Transportation Department estimates it will have an annual $200 million highway funding shortfall in coming years. If Idaho doesn’t take action to bridge the gap, officials say the only other alternative is to develop a strategic withdrawal from maintaining some roads so the state has enough cash left over for its most-important thoroughfares.
“There are plenty of projects we could do, if we had the money to do them,” Darrell Manning, the chairman of the Idaho Transportation Board, told lawmakers. “We have procrastinated too long.”
According to Otter’s proposals, he’s pushing a 4 percent tax on rental cars that would raise about $1.3 million annually.
Otter also wants to gradually boost fees on commercial truckers, raising $25 million in the 12 months starting July 1 and increasing the proceeds to $50 million by 2011. About $22 million would come from light trucks, with the rest from larger tractor trailers. Otter hasn’t proposed specific legislation; instead he’s working with lawmakers and the trucking industry to come up with a package that accomplishes his goals.
“We wanted to find some middle ground,” said Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home and a trucking company owner who has been helping draft proposals for his industry.
By far the largest piece of Otter’s package to increase roads revenue calls for boosting registration fees for personal vehicles to a flat rate of $150 annually, from between $24 and $48 now, depending on a car’s model year. After the changes, Idaho would rank just 17th among states in registration costs, said Clete Edmunson, Otter’s transportation policy adviser.
“Even by increasing revenue up to $150, it’s still fair and it’s still equitable with the surrounding states,” Edmunson said.
Some lawmakers already indicated opposition to trying to raise the lion’s share of new revenue by increasing registration fees for cars.
Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, said it made little sense that people who drive their cars very little should pay the same as those who use their cars every day for long distances.
“My neighbor who is 90 years old drives very little,” King said. “So why not raise your gas tax? I think for seniors, it would be fairer to charge per mile.”
Edmunson countered that Otter is philosophically opposed to raising the state’s 25-cent-a-gallon gas tax, which hasn’t been increased since 1996. Transportation Department officials also contend revenue from Idaho’s gas tax is stagnating and can’t be counted on in years to come, especially as cars improve their gas mileage.
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