The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) has put together a $579 million budget for fiscal year 2011, which begins this July. Fifty-five percent of money comes from the federal government. ITD officials say the amount of federal dollars flowing into Idaho could rise if Congress passes a second stimulus package.
“The problem is, when you use federal dollars they have strings attached,” Caldwell Republican Sen. John McGee said. He said strings for road construction include additional environmental testing and special rules for how federal funds can be spent. “We’ve got to get that percentage back on the state side.” McGee is on a state task force looking into reforming how Idaho pays for road construction that met last month.
The state portion of ITD’s budget comes from the state gas tax and vehicle registration fees, not the general fund. Idahoans won’t be asked to bolster those revenue sources during the next year and a half. “We’re not going to be asking you to raise the gasoline tax or vehicle fees,” Idaho Transportation Board chair Darrell Manning told lawmakers Thursday.
A proposed second federal stimulus package could bring in $182 million, and additional mandates, into Idaho. Last year’s stimulus plan brought in a similar amount of money for construction projects. The U.S. House of Representatives approved the package last month. Idaho Reps. Mike Simpson and Walt Minnick both voted against the plan, matching their votes on the first stimulus plan. The U.S. Senate won’t pass a new stimulus plan until February at the earliest, according to ITD officials.
ITD chief engineer Tom Cole said one problem with the second stimulus is that it would require half of all the money for construction projects to be awarded within 90 days. Cole said ITD’s current average for awarding contracts is 92 days. “We will do everything humanly possible to get the funding for the state of Idaho,” Cole said. “The problem will be the time frame that certain things take.”
“This to me sounds like shovel-ready on steroids,” McGee said.
The transportation department projects that the first stimulus plan created or sustained 2,100 jobs in Idaho.
ITD officials also told legislators Thursday that state bridges are aging and that the flagging construction industry is lowering spending costs. Within six years, half of all Idaho’s bridges will be at least 50 years old, which is how long bridges are designed to last.
The weak construction industry has helped Idaho’s construction dollars go further. ITD announced last week that the Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle (GARVEE) program has saved $55.5 million since early 2009. Idaho also had a bid savings of $50 million in stimulus spending, which was used to fund 11 additional construction projects.
While officials say lower construction costs helped ITD rebuild more roads, state economist Mike Ferguson has said that construction remains one of the economic sectors causing the state economy to lag.