Idaho’s gas tax increase starts July 1. Higher vehicle registration fees–$21 more for personal vehicles and $25 for commercial vehicles—also begins with the new month. So does the cacophony of legislators claiming that they’re “conservative” because they chose to increase vehicle taxes and fees. Up is down, and right is left in this Bizarro Universe.
Still, pro-tax increase legislators are test marketing their message: Idaho’s highways and bridges are falling apart, therefore, raising taxes to pay for the problems prior to a bridge collapse or before the highway system turns to dirt is “conservative” because it avoids higher costs in the future.
Some people will buy the logic. I don’t, and you shouldn’t. Here’s why: The case for more transportation money was made in 2009. Then, the Legislature wisely rejected Gov. Butch Otter’s tax increase. Otter put a task force together to study the problem, but its report wasn’t due until after the 2010 elections. Even still, legislative sessions came and went after the report came out. 2011. 2012. 2013. 2014. Rather than address the issue head on, the Legislature punted each year and onto the next. Until 2015.
Meanwhile, legislative budget writers went on spending. And spending. And spending. In 2009, lawmakers approved a 2009-10 budget of $2.5 billion. Last legislative session, lawmakers approved a budget for 2015-16 that weighed in at $3.07 billion, an increase of $565 million, or 22 percent. When the accounting gimmicks are taken into account, the state’s general fund can be shown to have increased by as much as $600 million.
If only they had spent less money in the intervening years between 2009 and today, we wouldn’t have been in this mess. We’d have money for transportation without tax and fee increases. Instead, you get to pay 32-cent-a-gallon fuel taxes.
Alas, this is no conservative Legislature and this is no conservative governor. Moreover, it’s a Legislature and governor who saw this coming three election cycles ago and did nothing to prepare for it. Instead, they cynically avoided the question, spent like there was no tomorrow until, quite literally, the midnight hour, passing the tax and vehicle registration fee increases while most Idahoans were asleep.
The only thing left to do is remind you who, besides just Butch Otter, is responsible for this spectacularly harmful and unnecessary turn of events: Reps. Neil Anderson, Robert Anderst, Ken Andrus, Linden Bateman, Scott Bedke, Maxine Bell, Merrill Beyeler, Van Burtenshaw, Greg Chaney, Sue Chew, Lance Clow, Gary Collins, Reed DeMordaunt, Mat Erpelding, Terry Gestrin, Marc Gibbs, Stephen Hartgen, Brandon Hixon, Wendy Horman, Paulette Jordan, Clark Kauffman, Ryan Kerby, Phylis King, Hy Kloc, Luke Malek, John McCrostie, Steve Miller, Jason Monks, Mike Moyle, Mark Nye, Kelley Packer, Joe Palmer, Donna Pence, Christy Perry, Dell Raybould, Eric Redman, Paul Romrell, Ilana Rubel, Dan Rudolph, John Rusche, Paul Shepherd, Elaine Smith, Jeff Thompson, Caroline Troy, Janet Trujillo, Julie VanOrden, John Vander Woude, Rich Wills, Melissa Wintrow, Fred Wood and Rick Youngblood.
In the Senate, tax raisers include Steve Bair, Bert Brackett, Cherie Buckner-Webb, Dean Cameron, Bart Davis, Lori Den Hartog, Jim Guthrie, Lee Heider, Brent Hill, Dan Johnson, Maryanne Jordan, Shawn Keough, Roy Lacey, Todd Lakey, Abby Lee, Patti Anne Lodge, Curt McKenzie, Dean Mortimer, Jim Patrick, Jim Rice, Dan Schmidt, Jeff Siddoway, Michelle Stennett, John Tippets, Janie Ward-Engelking and Chuck Winder. Sens. Steven Thayn and Marv Hagedorn voted against this tax hike, but they previously voted for an even bigger tax and fee package that failed.