A plan to allow the Idaho Transportation Department to bond $12 million in GARVEE funds to purchase property for future use in state highway and road construction has cleared the Idaho House of Representatives.
The proposal came before legislators on the last day of the 2010 legislative session in a push to get all budgetary bills through both houses of the Legislature. Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, said that the $12 million appropriation for bonds was significantly trimmed by members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC), the group of lawmakers which sets budgets each year. Henderson said the original requested amount brought to JFAC was $26 million, but lawmakers didn't see that as appropriate. He said the cut was made by eliminating all non-necessary projects and by keeping only money for right-of-way purchases, which are paramount to future construction projects.
Rep. Carlos Bilbao, R-Emmett, spoke in favor of the bonds. Bilbao urged lawmakers to support the legislation because he feels that a quality roadway infrastructure is necessary in attracting new businesses to the area. He also said that funding for roads is a matter of public safety and that less-than-necessary funding could have dire consequences.
"Are we willing to sacrifice more people to inadequate highway?" asked Bilbao.
He was joined in his urgings by Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, who told lawmakers that he would vote for GARVEE bonds for the first time because he said that he felt that the trimmed-down use of the bond money is the correct purpose of the program. Hagedorn warned that underfunding the bonds would lead to delays in road construction projects that would enhance the development of the state.
For others, the debt caused by the program warranted opposition during debate. Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, told legislators that public debt is unnecessary because "there is no rush" to purchase land. He argued that because of the declining economy, if the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) waits to purchase the land, it could save money as land prices continue to drop. Smith also decried the indebtedness the purchase of land would bring.
"ITD is now addicted to debt and we are now providing the narcotics for ITD’s addiction," said Smith.
Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, the chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, said that the debt is a good reason to oppose the budget.
"What we are doing is handing our children a legacy of debt," said Wood, who said that the state must expend $51 million to serve GARVEE debt in fiscal year 2010, an amount which will grow in the future.
"There’s no way out unless we raises taxes," said Wood, who speculated that members of the House would likely see transportation-related tax increases in the next legislative session to deal with shortages in highway funding and GARVEE debt.
Just before the vote, Henderson offered his opinion on the debt. "We are concerned about debt, but we are also concerned about opportunities which are right before us," said Henderson. House members then voted 44-24 to approve the bonds, which now head to Gov. Butch Otter for consideration.