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Following Hixon’s lead, panel approves $68 million transportation funding package

Following Hixon’s lead, panel approves $68 million transportation funding package

Dustin Hurst
March 18, 2015
Dustin Hurst
Author Image
March 18, 2015

Just moments after Meridian Republican Rep. Jason Monks finished presenting his plan to improve Idaho’s roads, Nampa GOP Rep. Brandon Hixon flipped on his mic.

“It’s a start,” Hixon said, with a quick-fire motion to approve the bill, which would hike taxes on Idahoans by at least $68 million a year.

After significant discussion, the House Transportation and Defense Committee followed Hixon’s lead, approving the measure on a 12 to 4 vote.

Monks’ plan, which he co-authored with Nampa Rep. Greg Chaney, a Republican, would hike the gas and diesel levy by 5 cents right at the pump. Additionally, the bill would tack on another 2 cents in the distribution process, which would end up hitting consumers in the wallet, too.

The bill doesn’t stop there, though. It would add a $65 annual fee for hybrid cars, plus a $120 fee for electric cars, levies designed to capture more dollars from the hyper-efficient autos.

Chaney and Monks also want general fund dollars to fund roads and bridges. The state will pitch in a small percent of general fund dollars only if revenue growth exceeds 4 percent. Under the plan, the trigger could be flipped for the first time in 2017.

They believe that will add another $12 million the second year. That amount would be added into base costs, meaning if growth flips the trigger in 2017 and 2018, the state would have $24 million in new road and bridge repair dollars.

With the new gas tax funding and the general fund dollars, Idaho could have more than $80 million in new road and bridge cash in 2017.

The general fund dollars would also trigger a reduction in the gas tax. For every $20 million in general fund dollars roads get, the gas tax would drop a penny until the hike is eliminated.

“As long as the state continues to grow, we able able to peel that back,” Monks told the House panel Wednesday. “That’s the beauty of this bill. It will continue to grow, unless we turn it off.”

The bill doesn’t include a hike in registration fees. Monks and Chaney said the exclusion was intentional to make the measure politically palatable.

“I think issues should stand on their own,” Monks said.

Interested parties checked in across the spectrum on the issue. The Idaho Education Association, for example, opposed the hike. The group’s lobbyist, Robin Nettinga, said legislators shouldn’t endanger future school funding by using general fund dollars for transportation.

“Some of that money would be siphoned away for transportation,” she said of future taxpayer dollars.

Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon, fired back, saying the Monks-Chaney plan only takes 20 percent of future revenue increases, leaving the rest for education, welfare and corrections, the three big-ticket spending items for the state.

Plus, Packer noted, school kids would benefit from tax hikes. “If our roads aren’t safe, then your school buses aren’t safe driving across them,” Packer said.

On the other side, David Lincoln, leader of the Idaho Association of Highway Districts, urged support for the tax hike. “It is, indeed, a step in the right direction,” Lincoln said.

Due to lack of road funds, Lincoln explained, maintenance is threatened and new road construction rarely happens. “Some of our districts have turned asphalt roads in to gravel roads right now,” he said, adding tha nearly all his messages on the bill support more money.

“It is clear they want us to do something and do it now,” he said of people he’s talked with on the measure.

David Carlson, lobbyist for AAA Idaho, said his organization opposes the plan because it doesn’t ask heavy trucks to pay enough for the greater strain they put on roads. He suggested legislators try to grab another $60 million to $80 million from truckers.

His line of questioning, like Nettinga’s, was beaten back by panel members.

“To me, I think that would be passed on to the consumer,” said Glenns Ferry Republican Rep. Rich Wills. “Wouldn’t you agree?”

Russ Hendricks, lobbyist for Idaho Farm Bureau, slammed the plan for lacking transparency because it uses the transfer fee to generate revenue.

“It is not a transparent way to raise taxes for roads,” Hendricks said. “It’s like a hidden tax.”
Hendricks said the transfer fee, which would hit farmers who use fuel in their machinery, isn’t shown to the public in any meaningful way, including tax disclosure stickers on gas pumps.

“The transfer fee never shows up on those stickers,” Hendricks said.

Democratic Rep. Phylis King of Boise motioned to kill the bill due to the use of the state fund dollars, plus other reasons.

“We need to find that registration piece,” she said. “I’d still like to have some public transit in it.”

Support for the measure, as did opposition, cut across party lines. Rep. Dan Rudolph, R-Lewiston, supported the plan, while Republican Rep. Linden Batemen of Idaho Falls opposed the bill on the final vote.

It now heads to the floor for consideration. This measure will compete with a bill sponsored by House Majority Caucus Chair John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, which raises even more cash for roads.
That bill, which includes a registration fee hike, awaits a hearing in Palmer's committee.

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