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Palmer: Another transportation tax hike unlikely

Palmer: Another transportation tax hike unlikely

Dustin Hurst
January 6, 2016
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January 6, 2016

A key member of the Idaho Legislature said Tuesday that lawmakers likely won’t seek another tax hike to fund road and bridge repairs.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, told IdahoReporter.com he’s unlikely to throw support behind any tax hike plan.

“I don’t think we need to raise taxes any more for that,” Palmer said.

His remarks came less than a year after legislators increased gas taxes and registration fees by more than $95 million, funds earmarked for road work.

During that debate, a handful of lawmakers, including Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, criticized the 2015 plan because it didn’t address the $260 million road-funding shortfall the state claims to have.

That plan, hammered out through grueling days of joint committee hearings at the 2015 session’s tail end, included a provision to direct half of the state’s surplus annual revenue to the roads. This session, that could mean an extra $54 million in state money is available for road repairs.

Palmer worries, though, that others in the Capitol might grab the extra earmarked funds. “We’ll see if anyone lines up to stop it from working,” he said.

The Idaho Transportation Department, Palmer noted, needs legislative authorization to spend the surplus funds. The transportation committee chairman hopes lawmakers quickly approve the surplus spending this year.

A member of the Senate Transportation Committee, Republican Sen. Steve Vick of Dalton Gardens, echoed Palmer’s animus toward raising transportation-related taxes again in 2016.

On Tuesday, Vick told IdahoReporter.com, “I don’t foresee any changes.”  

If his colleagues open the tax-hike discussion, Vick wants them to wait until the tax and fee hikes have been in effect one full year, which would mean delaying the topic until the 2017 legislative session. The tax and fee hikes went into effect July 1, 2015, barely six months ago.

“I certainly think it’d be too preliminary to say we need more road funding until we’ve been through at least a year,” Vick said.

Even then, the north Idaho senator wants legislators to avoid increases to the cost of driving. “I certainly hope we don’t do it through raising taxes and fees again,” he said.
Lawmakers begin their work next week at the Capitol. Gov. Butch Otter, who last month hinted at a minor reduction in some taxes, hasn’t said much about road funding. He may reveal transportation initiatives in his State of the State address, which he will deliver Monday.

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