Talk about a fly-by-night operation.
In the wee hours of Saturday morning, the Idaho Legislature finalized a plan to raise taxes and fees by $95 million a year, money set to fund bridge and road upkeep.
The plan, hatched by a special conference committee midday Friday, cleared the Senate on a 26 to 9 vote about 10 minutes before midnight.
The House immediately took up the plan and approved in on a 51 to 19 tally, only 30 minutes after the Senate’s vote.
The plan, the result of days and weeks of negotiations over road funding levels and mechanisms, will raise gas taxes by 7 cents a gallon on July 1, 2015, if Gov. Butch Otter signs the legislation. That will generate $63 million a year.
Additionally, the plan will increase registration fees for cars and light trucks by $21, plus $10 more for motorcycles. That piece adds $28 million a year. Heavy trucks will also pay more for registration, adding another $3.7 million roads.
The plan also includes a surplus eliminator, though lawmakers will review that piece in two years to gauge its effect on the state budget.
Lawmakers will not review the effects of the tax and fee hikes.
In the Idaho Senate, Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, said the plan is a “down payment” on road work, invoking the need to find more taxpayer cash to address the state’s $262 million yearly gap for that expense.
Brackett, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, co-chaired the special conference committee that hatched the $95 million tax hike package.
Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, complained the bill wasn’t enough, and suggested lawmakers failed because the tax hike isn’t enough to cover yearly debt payments on the state’s bond for prior road work.
Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, complained the Senate rushed through its work and left the public in the dark. Burgoyne voiced similar concerns on a prior version of the road funding plan.
On the House side, Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, said he wasn’t comfortable with the bill, but added the state needs the extra money for roads.
While a few lawmakers objected to the bill for various reasons, no lawmakers spoke against raising taxes.
Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman slammed the plan immediately after the House gave its stamp of approval.
“What Idaho lawmakers are doing right now--rushing to pass a tax increase at past midnight--is nothing short of outrageous,” Hoffman said. “Furthermore, given the fact that they could have passed tax relief too but chose not to, is even worse.”
The bill now heads to Otter’s desk for his consideration. The Legislature adjourned for the year just moments after finalizing the tax hike.
Note: The Idaho Freedom Foundation publishes IdahoReporter.com.