The leading Idaho House of Representatives lawmaker on transportation is calling for lawmakers not to approve the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD)’s request to bond $26 million for road construction in the Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle (GARVEE) program.
“It’s looking very, very serious for us in the future,” said Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, the chairman of the House Transportation and Defense Committee. “I don’t want to go any further into debt.” She told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) Thursday that the debt service payments for GARVEE bonds will last for 20 years and adding more bonds will only lead to higher payments down the road. The $26 million that ITD is requesting in its next budget would help buying land for roads on U.S. Highway 16 and on construction projects on U.S. Highway 95 between Sagle and Garwood.
GARVEE bonds are designed to help ITD on six road construction projects across Idaho. ITD has bonded $681 million since 2006. Money to repay those bonds is expected to come from federal grants. Wood said those federal dollars aren’t guaranteed. “If we don’t have more money coming in somewhere, we’re in a world of hurt,” she said. “We’re not going to be able to take care of what we’ve got.” According to Wood, federal changes to how road dollars are spread across the U.S. could hurt Idaho, which receives more from the federal government than it sends to Washington, D.C., in fuel tax dollars.
Wood's counterpart, Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell, agreed that federal money may become more scarce. “I don’t think Washington, D.C.’s in the mood to send a lot of transportation dollars to Idaho,” he told JFAC. But McGee said he supports the $26 million GARVEE bond. “This is the right time to do it,” he said. “This seems like a uniquely excellent opportunity for us to take advantage of the fact that we have construction companies that need work.” ITD said it saved $55 million in GARVEE construction costs in 2009 because of the down construction economy, though the department has faced criticism for spending $69,000 on groundbreaking ceremonies for GARVEE projects.
Lawmakers on JFAC are scheduled to decide on ITD’s budget on March 5, including whether they will have authority to issue the $26 million in bonds.
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