Senate tweaks road funding

Bill includes higher gas taxes, registration fees

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BOISE - The lone transportation funding proposal currently making its way through the Idaho Legislature underwent a nearly $127 million makeover Tuesday.

The Idaho Senate voted 22-13 on HB 312, which includes higher vehicle registration fees and increases Idaho's gas tax by 10 cents over the next four years.

However, because the bill was tweaked, it now needs to clear the House once more before heading to the governor's desk.

The original bill only created $20 million of new transportation funding, a far cry from solving Idaho's current $262 million annual transportation shortfall.

The amended version now would raise $65.7 million in its first year by increasing vehicle registration fees by $25, creating a $140 user fee for electric and hybrid cars, and increasing the fuels tax by 4 cents a gallon.

The fuels tax would then slowly increase to 10 cents by 2019.

"We were sent here to take care of our roads and transportation needs, and we're not even meeting the minimum that we need," said Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian. "So even though I don't like it, I still have to vote for it."

Finding an adequate transportation funding solution is the final major hurdle lawmakers are trying to clear before they adjourn for the year. However, a division between the House and Senate over what the transportation bill should look like has caused multiple delays in making progress.

The current legislative session is just a handful of days from becoming one of the top 10 longest legislative sessions in state history.

Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said the amendments included to HB 312 strict instructions that the new money only be used for road and bridge maintenance and replacement on a state and local level.

"I think some people think it's too high, others too small," he said. "But it's a good down payment on our shortfall of $262 million."

Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, testified against the bill before the vote on the Senate floor.

"This is a very large tax increase," Vick said, adding he believes the Legislature could have found existing revenue to reduce the amount of new taxes.

"I cannot support this bill," he said. "I will be voting no."

Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d'Alene, said she voted against the bill as well.

"The bill does have some merits, but I voted no because it was a straight-up tax bill," she said, adding she would like to have seen some tax relief in the bill.

However, she said she likes the fact that the taxes are phased in rather than levied on the taxpayers all at once.

Souza said the state saw a lot of new revenue this year, but most of that got swept into budget increases and pay raises. Now, she said, taxpayers are going to have to pay even more money to fix the state's transportation problems.

She said she plans to vote for two companion bills that would offer more transportation funding by shifting the Idaho State Police funding from the transportation budget to the general fund. Another bill will eliminate sales taxes on all road-building materials.

"Those two bills kind of help balance out the tax increase," she said.

Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, also voted no on the bill. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.

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