Gov. Butch Otter wouldn’t tell lawmakers during his State of the State address how they should tackle funding for highways and bridges.
Well, except for this: “I will NOT entertain proposals aimed at competing for general fund tax dollars with education and other required public programs or services.”
That’s too bad, because it is the one good option state lawmakers have at their disposal.
Let me explain. Funding for Idaho’s roads and bridges does not come from the state general fund. At present, the money comes from a separate account that receives fuel tax and vehicle registration revenue. In that way, only the money from vehicles go to roads. The governor and some legislators like to say transportation is funded entirely by “user fees.”
But I’d point that everyone uses roads, even if they don’t own vehicles. The transportation system benefits everyone, not just people with wheels.
If you walk to local grocer to buy food, you’ll find the store pretty empty, but not for the big rigs that transport your milk, eggs and cheese there. Additionally, these days, bike lines and public transportation compete for local and federal transportation “user fee” revenues. The distinction just doesn’t make sense.
Furthermore, it is easy to argue that plenty of sales tax revenue, which goes to the general fund, derives from transportation. Think tires, car batteries, motor oil and so on.
Finally, while it is fun to make distinctions about pots of government money, it all comes from one source—the taxpayer. If you raise taxes—any taxes—it impacts the money available from the person paying the bill. And there’s only so much money the taxpayer has to give.
That means that yes, funding for roads already competes for money with schools and other government services, despite what the politicians like to tell us to the contrary.
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