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Draconian: Bill to gut government agency hits Statehouse

Draconian: Bill to gut government agency hits Statehouse

Dustin Hurst
April 7, 2015
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April 7, 2015

A bill to gut a government agency will receive a full hearing in an Idaho House panel after a special committee introduced the measure Tuesday.

Democratic Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, suggested the bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, is “draconian” during House Ways and Means Committee questioning.

Palmer’s bill would sharply reduce resources flowing to the Local Highway Technical Advisory Council, more commonly known as LHTAC. The agency serves as a technical and engineering resource center for local highway and road districts, of which there are more than 288 in the state.

Palmer told IdahoReporter.com following the hearing the Idaho Transportation Department can provide the technical assistance to local road entities without adding staff or increasing costs.

Palmer, who serves as the chair of the House Transportation and Defense Committee, told panel members his bill would effectively drop LHTAC’s staff numbers from 25 to about three.

Jeff Miles, LHTAC’s administrator, told IdahoReporter.com his agency is as efficient as ITD and provides critical services for the hundreds of road entities.

“I think it’s a pretty efficient system,” Miles said Thursday.

One of LHTAC’s major functions is engineering and compliance oversight for federal projects in small communities. Miles said his agency checks projects against guidelines to ensure the federal government will pay for construction.

Palmer’s bill would end that practice and shift it to ITD. That would mean, essentially, up to a $1.5 million budget reduction for LHTAC.

That’d be a significant dent in the agency’s budget, set at just more than $6.3 million for 2014-2015.

Miles said he’s not talked with Palmer about the plan, but opposed the effort to reduce funding for his agency.

Palmer held an earlier measure regarding LHTAC, a resolution asking for a study of the agency. Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, sponsored that measure. It’s unclear how Brackett feels about Palmer’s new bill.

The House Ways and Means Committee voted 4 to 3 to approve the measure, with only panel Democrats dissenting.
The bill now heads to Palmer’s committee as the session winds down here in Boise.

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