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Eye on Boise: Holiday travel expected to go up despite gas prices

BOISE – Idaho’s average gas price is now $2.99 per gallon, up four cents in the past three weeks and 31 cents above the national average of $2.68, according to AAA of Idaho. But the AAA is forecasting a 10 percent increase in auto travel over this Labor Day holiday weekend in Idaho and the region, compared to last year, despite the pricier gas.

“We do not expect Idaho’s higher gas prices will have any sizable impact on travel intentions,” said Dave Carlson, director of public and government affairs for AAA Idaho.

The group’s fuel gauge report showed that Idaho’s average gas price ties for the fifth-most expensive gas in the country, behind only Alaska, $3.51 per gallon; Hawaii, $3.47; California, $3.08; and Washington, $3.06. Idaho tied with Oregon, but Oregon doesn’t have self-service, requiring motorists to let an attendant pump their gas for them.

AAA said Idaho’s average price has been more than 20 cents higher than the national average gas price for the past five months. “Market factors can influence prices from region to region and even locally, but it’s difficult to comprehend what’s driving this year’s high pump prices in Idaho,” Carlson said.

Local-option tax has backing

Local-option taxes, which have long struggled to win support in the state Legislature, have been identified by a subcommittee of Gov. Butch Otter‘s transportation funding task force as the best way to fund public transportation in the state.

“The committee didn’t feel there’s dollars available to have some kind of a state-sponsored funding program,” David Bennion, subcommittee chairman, told the full panel. State Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who served on the subcommittee, said the group decided “our job is to provide a toolbox full of tools and then let the people in that area decide what works for them … through the ballot box.”

The subcommittee backed user fees, local sales taxes, an expanded resort tax for larger cities or counties, property tax options and impact fees, all if approved by local voters, as appropriate ways to fund transit. Lt. Gov. Brad Little praised the subcommittee’s work, saying if the state is going to look at transportation needs for the next 20 years, that look has to include public transportation. The full task force voted unanimously to accept the subcommittee’s report “for consideration at a later time.”

Keough: ‘On the record’

As the governor’s transportation funding task force opened its meeting last week, Keough took the opportunity to formally disclose a possible conflict of interest. She both made a statement and submitted a written notice: “My private sector employer is the Associated Logging Contractors of Idaho. My employer may be impacted by the work of this committee. I want to formally and publicly disclose this potential conflict of interest and uphold the state Senate rules and my oath of office.”

Little responded, “We appreciate that, senator – we appreciate all transparency in the governmental process, and that will be duly noted.” Asked about the conflict disclosure during a break in the task force meeting, Keough said, “I’ve always been upfront about mine and mine are on the record.”

More trouble at prison

The Idaho Correctional Center, the state prison south of Boise operated by the Corrections Corp. of America that’s currently the target of a huge lawsuit over prison violence, has another problem – and this time, it’s the water.

ICC reported that traces of the E.coli bacteria were found in its water supply, prompting the private lockup to boil water that’s used for drinking or cooking. It is the only user of that water source; no illnesses have been reported so far among inmates or staff.

‘Rosy’ in 1st CD?

CNN’s “Political Ticker” recently published a piece on Idaho’s 1st District congressional race today, headed, “A rosy outlook for the Tea Party’s favorite Democrat.” Its take: Incumbent Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick, “who defied the odds in 2008 … seems poised to confound expectations yet again.”

The report found Minnick looking strong against GOP challenger Raul Labrador, despite the heavily Republican makeup of the 1st CD, saying, “The Democratic incumbent has GOP roots as solid as his state’s.” But it warned that spending from outside groups could be a wild card in the race.

1st CD endorsements

Recent endorsements in the 1st CD race include that of Minnick by the Idaho Medical Association and the American Medical Association, the groups that represent doctors in Idaho and nationwide. “IMA appreciates Congressman Minnick’s extensive efforts to reach out to the medical community on an ongoing basis,” said Susie Pouliot, CEO of the Idaho association. “He consistently reflects the values of his constituents and has shown the courage to vote accordingly.”

Meanwhile, Labrador announced that he’s signed a pledge to back repeal of the federal estate tax and won support from the American Family Business Institute, a group promoting the pledge. Dick Patten, the institute’s president, said, “Labrador has been a strong advocate for permanently repealing this unfair double tax. … I’m encouraged that he has committed to taking a more active role in the repeal fight.”