House Transportation and Defense Committee members voted Tuesday to approve a plan that would take fuel tax dollars from the Idaho State Police and use the cash to repair roads.
After impassioned debate, panel members approved House Bill 157 on a 10-to-7 vote, which sends the measure to the House floor.
The committee's chairman, Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, proposed the bill and told colleagues his plan would shift money brought in by taxpayers using roads to actual road repair. Right now, a small portion of the fuel tax funds the Idaho State Police’s patrol division, which would eventually end if Palmer’s bill finds its way into law.
The bill calls for the shift to occur through a five-year process and would begin in fiscal year 2019, which kicks off on July 1, 2018. From there, Palmer’s bill would remove just more than $3 million a year from ISP’s fuel tax allotment, and that would compound each year. By the end of the shift, roads would see an extra $17 million in repair and maintenance dollars.
The measure would create a budget hole for ISP that Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee members would likely have to fill using other dedicated money or general fund dollars. Palmer said legislators on that panel have assured him they would find money to keep ISP in the black.
As flooding across the state has washed out roads and snowfalls has strained transportation budgets, Palmer asked his committee to take action.
“The transportation system is in dire straights,” Palmer testified.
A member of Palmer’s own committee, Rep. Patrick McDonald, R-Boise, delivered an impassioned plea to kill the measure. McDonald, an ISP veteran himself, told the panel ISP already faces tight budgets and too few resources to fully protect Idahoans on state highways. He criticized the plan because, he said, there’s “no guarantee” the budget committee would keep the police agency’s budget whole.
“I’ll vote against this here and I’ll vote against this on the floor,” McDonald told colleagues.
The Idaho Association General Contractors endorsed the bill and praised Palmer on social media for, “his continuing effort to support infrastructure investing.”
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