A transportation task force is going forward with a new survey to see if drivers in cars and heavy trucks are paying their fair share for highway construction. The Idaho Highway Cost Allocation Study will give lawmakers an updated view of how much different kinds of vehicles pay for road maintenance and construction. The last state study eight years ago showed that smaller cars and busses paid less proportionally than pickups and heavy trucks in state and federal taxes and fees, based on how they used the roads.
“We really don’t have a dog in this fight,” Patrick Balducci of the consulting contractor Battelle told lawmakers Monday afternoon. “The output of our model doesn’t typically discriminate against different vehicles.” He is leading a six-month study that will offer more data to the Governor’s Task Force on Modernizing Transportation Funding. His project began in December and a final report should be finished by the end of June. The study will cost the state about $200,000, according to the Idaho Department of Transportation.
The new data should help lawmakers trying to decide on where to find new funding for road construction that is stable and politically palatable. Gov. Butch Otter set up the task force after lawmakers rejected his proposals for tax and fee increases to fund highway infrastructure needs last year. The task force has a December deadline.
“The study will guide us if we make decisions that ask for further funding from the public,” said House Transportation Committee Chair JoAn Wood, R-Rigby. “If we have a study that verifies the responsibility of different users, then it would be much easier for us to carry a request to the public for added participation in cost.” She said more fuel-efficient vehicles and rising prices of oil would likely skew the funding equity. “We have to depend on something besides the fuel tax if it continues to go that way,” she said. One alternative source she mentioned would be dedicating the sales tax on new and used vehicles as well as tires and auto parts to highway construction. That money currently goes into the general fund.
Representatives for drivers and truckers both spoke in favor of the study to find equitable funding for roads. Dave Carlson with AAA Idaho said the results would inform any discussion on new revenue for roads. “It’s going to be a much easier pill to swallow, frankly, when we’re all asked to pay an equity that’s consistent with what we all use,” he said.
“There’s got to be more funds and they’ve got to be spent on the roads in order to protect the commerce of the state of Idaho,” said Clay Handy of Handy Truck Line.
The Highway Cost Allocation Study will look at how cars, trucks, busses, and other vehicles pay for highway construction, as well as how they use and wear out roads, bridge, rest stops, and other parts of the road infrastructure. Balducci included several policy options from a similar study in Nevada in 2008. Those options included raising the tax on diesel or gas, increasing registration fees for heavy trucks, and other taxing hikes and tweaks. Balducci said he could examine other policy options that members of the task force or the Idaho Transportation Department want him to consider.