BOISE – Gov. Butch Otter withdrew his $150-a-car registration fee plan Wednesday, accusing lawmakers of trying to use him for “political cover” to avoid addressing Idaho’s transportation backlog.
“I’m still willing to work with ‘em, but I’m no longer prepared to provide the political cover,” Otter said. He noted: “It’s an election year – they’re standing for election, I’m not.”
The governor sent a letter to lawmakers notifying them he’s withdrawing his transportation proposal, which called for both the hefty registration fee increase and a new tax on rental cars. But he said he still wants action on transportation funding this year.
“I hope I’ve diminished some of the confusion by saying, ‘OK, you don’t like my idea, let’s take a look at some of your ideas,’ ” the governor said Wednesday during his annual address to the Idaho Press Club.
Republican leaders were taken aback by the letter.
“To the extent that our 105 people move slower than his one, I get that,” said House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley. “We’re coming with proposals. We agree with the governor that there is an undisputed need for additional transportation funding.”
House Transportation Chairwoman JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, said: “We have been working really, really hard to get a package together to take to him. … We were not ready.”
Wednesday afternoon, the House Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously to introduce a truck registration fee increase bill. Sponsored by Sens. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, and Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, that bill fits into the plan the governor laid out to lawmakers. The truck fee bill would raise an additional $35 million a year once it fully took effect.
But lawmakers have been unenthusiastic about $150 car registrations in a state where owners of some older cars now pay less than $30.
“I said in the very beginning it was too much,” Wood said. “I have too many people that drive $2,000 clunkers, both husband and wife, because it’s all they can afford. I don’t want to take $300 away from them very badly.”
Senate President Pro Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, said, “It’s not going to be practical or possible to get that through this year … My e-mail box is full of messages from people who don’t want to pay $150 to register their vehicles.”
Some House members have kicked around a plan for a $40 registration fee increase, but Otter said that wouldn’t raise enough to make a dent in the state’s $200 million-plus annual road maintenance shortfall.
Otter said he remains hopeful that he and lawmakers can agree on a transportation funding plan this year. He also said that he’d back a constitutional amendment to allow local-option sales taxes for transportation, as some House GOP leaders have proposed, and that he plans to fight for approval for the next stage of the Connecting Idaho highway bonding program.
House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said, “It just never ceases to amaze me since I’ve been here – they’re all the same party, and you would think they’d be able to be on the same page.”
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