Here’s another interesting point about Gov. Butch Otter’s vow not to use general fund dollars for roads: Idaho already uses general funds for that purpose. So Otter’s contention that only “user fees” like vehicle registration dollars and fuel taxes should be used for roads and bridges defies current practice.
Yes. It is true.
Up until last year, a portion of the money from the cigarette tax, 57 cents per pack in Idaho, funded Statehouse renovations. The state paid off that expense. Last year, those dollars were freed for other purposes.
In 2014, had lawmakers done nothing, the cigarette tax revenue would have reverted to the state general fund. Instead, legislators decided to allocate the money to public schools, county juvenile probation, the Permanent Building Fund, the Cancer Control Fund, aquifer programs, and, drum roll please, highway construction debt service. Any remaining money will fund state highway maintenance.
At least $4.7 million is earmarked for highway debt service.
These aren't general fund dollars—only because lawmakers refuse to call them that. But it’s a distinction without a difference. Even if the governor and lawmakers were right -- they’re not -- to refuse to call cigarette tax money “general funds,” this much is true: There is nothing “user fee” about using cigarette tax money to pay for roads.