BOISE – Idaho needs to spend $543 million more a year on its roads, Gov. Butch Otter’s transportation task force decided Tuesday, and the top ways it should raise the money are through raising gas taxes, car registration and trucking fees, and taxing car rentals.
The task force stopped short, however, of calling for any specific increases or any specific timeline for them.
“There may be a time in the future we can do it. We can’t do it now,” said task force member Jim Kempton, an Idaho public utilities commissioner and former House transportation chairman.
House Tax Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, cast the only vote against the task force’s final resolution, which was 18 months in the making.
“I wanted the task force to come up with specific recommendations to fund enhancements for the Department of Transportation – we didn’t do it,” Lake said after the vote. “I think that we chose a cautious way out.”
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, disagreed. “We’ve identified the problem, we’ve identified the tools – that was our task,” she said. “Now that goes to the governor and the Legislature.”
As a lawmaker, Keough said, she’ll weigh the recommendation against the state’s economy, the rest of the state budget and input from people in her district.
Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who chaired the task force, said, “Frankly I’m very pleased at how things came out today. I think we’ve come up with a roadmap. I think we’ve acknowledged how difficult it’s going to be.”
In an all-day meeting Tuesday, the 14-member task force hashed out a long resolution addressing various transportation funding issues, in addition to the overall price tag and two dozen priority-ranked revenue-raising options.
• The task force backed permanently restoring a 3 percent share of the state’s gas tax to the state Department of Parks and Recreation for trails, reflecting the amount of gas burned off-road in ATVs, boats, snowmobiles and the like. An end-of-session compromise on transportation funding two years ago sought to shift that money to the Idaho Transportation Department for roads, but after an outcry from recreationists, lawmakers agreed to put the shift off until July 1, 2011; this recommendation would reverse it permanently.
• The task force endorsed a larger shift back to ITD of millions a year that now help fund the Idaho State Police. State Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rup? ert, co-chairman of a legislative committee that’s studying how to fund the ISP without the gas tax money, said a dollar-per-month surcharge on car insurance is one option that would raise $19 million a year and more than cover the loss to the state police.
• The panel forwarded a new cost-allocation study showing that cars and pickups overpay for their wear and tear on Idaho roads while heavy trucks underpay; it also called for phasing in any moves to correct that over several years.
• The task force called for re-examining funding distribution formulas to local highway jurisdictions to make sure they fit the needs. Some districts have dozens of bridges, for example, while others have only a few.
• A subcommittee’s list of possible ways to fund public transportation in the long term, including local-option taxes, was included in the resolution, though Lake said he thought that issue was best left to the House Revenue and Taxation Committee.
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