Democrat Keith Allred, running to unseat Republican Gov. Butch Otter in November, might feel a little vindicated after a study release Tuesday showed what Allred had been arguing all along in the road funding debate - heavy trucks aren't paying their fair share for highway maintenance. The study, brought up in Tuesday's meeting of the governor's transportation task force, showed that while light, passenger cars are overpaying for road funding by about 8 percent, heavy trucks are underpaying by about 14 percent.
In early December, when Allred announced his candidacy, he told IdahoReporter.com that he believes highway users should pay according to their impact on state roads and that he supports a pay-by-the-mile road funding program. Tuesday, following the announcement by the Idaho Transportation Department about the study, Allred said that he has been right all along about the way to properly fund the state's highways. "As several earlier studies had already indicated, heavy trucks don’t pay their fair share of wear and tear on our roads,” Allred said. “That is why, as president of The Common Interest, I led the opposition to Otter’s misguided proposal to more than double registration fees for cars and pick up trucks while raising registration fees on heavy trucks by only 5 percent." Prior to his candidacy for governor, Allred served as president of the The Common Interest, a lobbying organization that professes to steer clear of political partisanship while working to find solutions to governmental problems.
Allred has accused his electoral foe of caving to special and business interests by refusing to provide fair hikes in fees assessed to large trucks that travel on Idaho's highways. "Of course, there are two stories here," Allred said. "The first is that Otter serves special interests at the cost of everyday Idahoans. The second is that Otter was wrong to try to raise taxes on Idaho families during the worst economic downturn of our lifetimes."
Two years ago, Otter pitched several ideas to the Idaho Legislature to raise money for state roads, including large increases to car and truck registration fees, as well as a penny increase in the state's gas tax. Otter also lobbied for a $20 increase to the cost of custom license plates as a way to generate revenue. All of Otter's ideas were shot down in one of the longest legislative sessions in Idaho's history.
It looks as though the Idaho Legislature may again take up the idea of hiking the gas tax, after the task force decided Tuesday that an increase might be the most feasible and acceptable way to increase road funds. Allred slammed that notion, saying that gas taxes in a turbulent economy are wrong. "Raising the gas tax is wrong for three reasons," said Allred. "First, this is no time to be raising taxes on Idaho families. Second, we have other far more pressing priorities than roads right now, our kids’ education chiefly among them. Third, raising the gas tax does nothing to correct the unfairness of car and pickup owners paying for heavy trucks’ wear and tear.”
Otter and Allred square off in November's general election.