BOISE – The $54 million transportation funding compromise that ended Idaho’s second-longest legislative session this year has now shrunk to about $28 million – far less than Gov. Butch Otter said was needed right away to keep Idaho’s roads up to par.
First, a joint legislative task force recommended delaying until 2011 a shift of $21.1 million from parks and the state police to road work. Now the other bills that passed this year are bringing in significantly less money than anticipated.
An increase for driver’s licenses, titles and other Department of Motor Vehicles fees is now expected to bring in $11.5 million instead of $13.1 million, as recession-weary Idahoans opt to renew their licenses and registrations for shorter periods of time. Repeal of a tax exemption for ethanol is raising $15.4 million, about $1 million less than expected. And legislation estimated to raise $5 million a year from new truck-trailer plates is expected to raise just $500,000; it’s brought in only $105 so far.
“Quite frankly, it just means that we have to take another look at our priorities in terms of transportation funding,” said Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls. “Because obviously, we’re not going to be able to accomplish all that we wanted to accomplish.”
Increasing funding for basic road work across the state – from plowing snow to repairing deteriorated pavement – has been Otter’s top priority for the past two years, but lawmakers have refused to raise gas taxes or vehicle registration fees to accomplish it. Now Otter’s counting on a task force that will spend 18 months looking for long-term solutions – which likely wouldn’t be proposed until after the next election.
Otter, whose task force holds its second meeting today, has ordered the panel to report back by Dec. 1, 2010, but he also said he “would welcome the task force’s findings and recommendations as soon as they are ready.”
Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, the House minority leader, said the compromise to establish the task force “had a lot of purposes, and only one of them was to provide transportation funding. It was a way to have various parties save face – we were able to say we didn’t raise taxes, but we were also able to say we got some additional money for transportation. And it also was, frankly, a way for us to end the session and get out of town.”
Rusche said it’s not surprising that the answers may be pushed off until after the November 2010 election, in which both Otter and every seat in the Legislature are up for election.
Otter this year called on lawmakers to gradually raise gas taxes and car registration fees and make other changes to raise a total of $174.5 million a year more for roads by the fifth year. He settled instead for a plan to raise about $54 million a year more for roads after two years. That’s now down to $28.4 million.
Idaho’s Transportation Department receives no state general funds, instead operating on dedicated state highway funds that come mainly from the gas tax and vehicle registration fees. Those revenues have been flat for years, with the fiscal year 2009 collections, $177.2 million, falling below 2001 collections of $177.7 million.
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