A Seat in the House
Adequate funding for Idaho’s road and bridge system continues to be an issue and although a number of legislative proposals were introduced in the legislature two years ago to increase funding for our transportation system none were passed into legislation.
Recognizing that adequate funding for our transportation infrastructure remains an issue, Governor Otter, on June 23, 2009, created by executive order a “Gubernatorial Task Force on Modernizing Transportation Funding in Idaho”
The task force consists of fifteen members and two non-voting members. The membership includes:
• The Lieutenant Governor who chairs the meetings of the task force
• The Chairs of the Senate Transportation Committee and the House Transportation and Defense Committee
• Four members of the Idaho House of Representatives, including a member of the minority party
• Four members of the Idaho Senate, including a member of the minority party (Senator Shawn Keough from Legislative District One is one of the Senate members)
• Four members of the public
• The Chair of the Idaho Transportation Department board and another ITD board member as non-voting, ex officio members.
The task force has been charged with the assignment to “consider both traditional and non-traditional sources of revenue for maintenance and preservation of highways and bridges, including but not limited to possible revisions to the rates, methods and manner of calculating any and all taxes, fees and registrations relating to fuels, motor vehicles and motor carriers.”
The task force is to provide its findings and recommendations to the Governor by December 1 of this year and is required to draft and present legislation for consideration by the legislature in the 2011 legislative session. The Task Force will “cease to exist on and after July 1, 2011.
Senate Transportation Chairman, John McGee and Legislative District One Senator Shawn Keough, met with the Bonner County Area Transportation Team on August 25 to provide the team with information on the Task Force activities to date. Senator Broadsword and I also were present at the meeting with Senators McGee and Keough.
Senator McGee and Senator Keough informed the Transportation Team that several funding recommendations were being considered by the task force, including an increase in the fuel tax, increasing motor vehicle registration fees (including large commercial vehicles), a sales tax on fuel purchases in lieu of a fixed fuel tax, and even a tax based on miles driven in a vehicle.
It was emphasized that any of these various funding recommendations and/or other funding proposals could be provided to the legislature for consideration in the next session.
Unfortunately an article in the Bonner County Daily Bee covering the meeting caused some to believe that the legislature will definitely pass some kind of tax the next session based on the task force’s recommendations. As a result Senator Keough, Senator Broadsword and I have had concerns expressed to us that because of the current economy the legislature should not be considering any tax increases this next session.
In response to these concerns we had tried to make clear in the meeting that while there is a need for increased road maintenance funds and funding for additional transportation infrastructure that because of the current economy it is highly unlikely that any tax increases will be passed this next session.
As Senator Keough emphasized during the meeting “our task on the Governor’s Transportation Task Force is to identify the need to maintain the current road system, project the future expansion needs and to fairly estimate how the costs should be borne among the users”
Considering the recommendations and the corresponding costs of these recommendations will be the task of the upcoming legislature. Undoubtedly funding increases will be part of the recommendations, but the increase (if any) and the timing of any increase will be up to the legislature and the Governor. However, recognizing the difficult economic situation that the citizens of Idaho are facing currently, I believe, along with Senator Keough and Senator Broadsword, that it will be difficult to get a majority of legislators to support any funding increase in the 2011 session.
However, even though the legislature may not take action this next session transportation funding is going to remain a significant and important issue in the upcoming months and I would welcome your ideas and recommendations on how the legislature should address this issue.
Thanks for reading and as always please contact me with issues of importance to you. My home phone is (208) 265-0123 and my mailing address is P.O. Box 112, Dover, Idaho 83825. George