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Idaho is a leader -- in raising taxes and hurting families

Idaho is a leader -- in raising taxes and hurting families

Wayne Hoffman
July 3, 2015
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July 3, 2015

If you’re angry about Idaho’s new, higher fuel taxes, here’s a reason to be a tad angrier: The start of a new month brought gas tax increases to six states. But one state raised its tax the most, and you’re living in it. That’s right: Idaho, with its so-called “conservative Legislature” jacked up the tax on fuel the most of any state in the nation.

Georgia, Maryland, Nebraska, Rhode Island and Vermont also imposed new, higher fuel taxes, but not as much as the Gem State, according to the Hill newspaper, citing tax policy watchdog organizations. In Nebraska, a gas tax increase totaling six-cents-a-gallon took effect after lawmakers overrode their governor’s veto.

“The number one issue I hear about from hardworking Nebraskans is the need for tax relief,” Nebraska Gov. Peter Ricketts said when he vetoed his lawmakers’ tax increase in May. Lawmakers there didn’t listen, imposing a 23 percent fuel tax increase over Rickett’s objections. Idaho’s fuel tax hike is a 28 percent increase, and had the support of both the governor and overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate.

Granted, other states are doing other things to make it tough on drivers. While Maryland’s July 1 tax increase was half a penny, another increase is set to take effect in January that will increase that state’s fuel excise taxes even more (though, still, less than Idaho). Other states focused on getting additional revenues by imposing even higher vehicle registration fees.

Now that Idaho’s fuel tax increase can be considered alongside the actions of legislators and governors in other states, it’s even easier to see that Idaho’s tax increase is disproportionate and damaging. Worse, I reiterate, it is a function of particularly poor planning on the part of state officials. This was a crisis years in the making that virtually anyone at the Statehouse could have, should have and likely did see coming.

A decade ago, when then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne proposed debt-financing highway construction in Idaho, I warned that the state would wind up allocating more toward debt service and less toward road maintenance as time went on. Even back then, it was also well understood that funding for road infrastructure was being eaten up by higher vehicle fuel economy standards meant that even as Idaho’s population was growing, revenue for transportation was remaining largely flat.

In 2009, Gov. Butch Otter asked for transportation funding increases, which lawmakers smartly rejected.  All of this was a recipe for a single result: A demand for more money. It was only a matter of time before someone, likely the governor, again asked for higher fuel taxes and registration fees. No one should have been shocked. Indeed, no one was.

And while lawmakers and the governor had multiple occasions over multiple years to set aside money for transportation, they avoided doing so. They outright ignored the problem, leading to where we are today. Had the state government set aside just 1 percent of the state general fund for the last four years, we would have invested more money into Idaho’s roads and bridges than will be raised by the fuel tax increase. But we didn’t.

Idaho now has the distinction of imposing the largest per-gallon increase in fuel taxes in the country. That’s a distinction state officials should be embarrassed to have.

But let's end on a positive note.  Here is a list of the legislators who voted against any tax increase this year,  who likely deserve some thanks: Reps. Vito Barbieri, Gayle Batt, Judy Boyle, Don Cheatham, Brent Crane, Tom Dayley, Sage Dixon, John Gannon, Steve Harris, James Holtzclaw, Tom Loertscher, Lynn Luker, Patrick McDonald, Shannon McMillan, Ron Mendive, Ron Nate, Pete Nielsen, Heather Scott, Kathy Sims, and Sens. Cliff Bayer, Fred Martin, Bob Nonini, Sheryl Nuxoll, Mary Souza and Steve Vick. Sens. Marv Hagedorn and Steve Thayn voted no on the bill that became law, but supported another measure that imposed even higher costs on Idaho drivers.

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