BOISE – Idaho Gov. Butch Otter isn’t requesting any increase in state funds for roads and bridges in next year’s state budget, after lawmakers last year increased gas taxes and fees.
That’s even though last year’s move only cut Idaho’s annual road and bridge maintenance backlog by a third, from $262 million to $165.3 million.
“Last year’s revenue increase was a good start,” Idaho Transportation Department Director Brian Ness told the Legislature’s joint budget committee on Thursday. “This will slow the deterioration of our infrastructure, but older roads and bridges cannot last forever.”
The revenue increases approved by lawmakers last year came to $96.7 million, with Idaho’s gas tax rising from 25 to 32 cents per gallon and vehicle registration fees going up. In addition, lawmakers last year approved a “surplus eliminator” plan, with any unexpected state surplus to be split half-and-half between roads and state savings accounts both this year and next year. That’s brought $54 million for road and bridge projects this year.
“We will continue to talk about what the need is, and we’ll let the Legislature decide how that stacks up with all the other needs that they have,” Ness said.
He said he expects to be back talking to lawmakers about more funds once the two-year surplus eliminator plan ends.
“To request more means more taxes,” said Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, co-chair of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which heard Ness’ budget pitch Thursday. She said lawmakers knew last year that the increase wouldn’t cover the full backlog, let alone account for expansion or improvements to the road system.
“That being said, last year’s effort to raise taxes to bring in more revenue to try to address some of the maintenance shortfall that we have annually was a huge step for a majority of legislators that voted yes,” she said. “And it’s not realistic to expect that, especially in an election year, that they would go through that exercise again.”
The transportation department identified 27 critical road and bridge projects statewide to be funded by the new taxes and fees as soon as last year’s legislative session adjourned, and many already are under construction. Those include re-decking three bridges on U.S. Highway 2 near Priest River and Dover, a $1 million project that’s now complete; and reconstruction of 4 miles of U.S. Highway 95 from Smith Creek to Sheep Creek in Benewah County. That $12 million project has begun, but is currently on hold for winter weather.
The surplus funds will go to 17 new projects the transportation department has identified, as soon as lawmakers OK the spending. Those include three North Idaho projects: Safety improvements on state Highway 41 near Spirit Lake; pavement restoration on more than 10 miles of that route near Rathdrum; and replacement of the Interstate 90 overpass and interchange at Wolf Lodge.
Otter’s proposed transportation budget for next year totals $649.6 million, plus another $58 million for bond payments. That includes $348.3 million in state funds, all dedicated funds from the state’s gas tax, registration fees and other highway-related fees; $354.8 million in federal funds; and $4.6 million in other funds, including local matching funds and fees charged to other agencies.
Although that budget figure reflects a 30.8 percent increase over this year’s original transportation appropriation, the difference is largely the funding increases that lawmakers approved last year through gas tax and fee increases, along with a 5 percent increase in federal funds and some carry-over funds for projects still in process.
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