Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter announced his priorities for the 2008 Legislative session when he presented the annual State of the State/Budget Address Monday from Boise State University.
As expected, transportation issues assumed a prominent place in Gov. Otter’s address and will be among the key legislative topics discussed this session.
Gov. Otter offered his support for increasing automobile registration fees as a way of generating additional resources for improving Idaho’s highways. He also asked Legislators to approve an additional $134 million in bonding authority for ITD as part of Idaho’s GARVEE bond program and urged lawmakers to give local government authority to assess local option taxes for infrastructure improvements.
He also outlined a strategy to move funding for the Idaho State Police from the Highway Distribution Account to the general fund, which would make almost $17 million annually available for transportation projects.
“…I’m proposing that a greater share of Idaho State Police operations be covered by the state general fund,” he said. “The ISP now is getting almost $17 million a year from our 25-cents-per-gallon fuel tax. Shifting that expense to the general fund over the next two years will free up more fuel tax revenue specifically for highway work.
“The fact is that every taxpayer
benefits from the Idaho State Police. It should be part of the general
fund budget, and more of our fuel taxes must be put back into our roads.”
“I am going to ensure that the transportation system efficiencies that have been promised – and those yet to be identified – are implemented and maintained. We must see results. To the degree that is accomplished, I will support a proposal from Senator John McGee and others that includes an increase in vehicle registration fees.”
He also asked that Legislators authorize issuing a third round of GARVEE bonds that leverage future federal funds to improve five key transportation corridors in Idaho. Gov. Otter asked for approval of ITD’s request for an additional $134 million. The Legislature approved bonding authority of $250 million last session and $200 million in 2006, the first year of the program.
“But make no mistake, GARVEE bonding is not and never was the answer to our statewide transportation challenges. We have an immense backlog of maintenance and improvement needs.”
ITD Director Pam Lowe said she is encouraged by the governor’s support for additional transportation revenue and looks forward to working with Legislators as they consider the options available.
“We have clearly and consistently outlined the need to generate additional revenue for the transportation system and are pleased with the support we have seen, both in the public arena and among private stakeholders,” Lowe said.
“That kind of support is essential if we are to continue providing a safe, reliable transportation system that Idaho citizens expect and deserve. Idaho is not alone in the disparity between what is available and what is needed. But we may well become a national leader in advancing a solution.”
While admitting that he personally does not favor increased taxes for transportation, Gov. Otter believes communities should have the opportunity to assess additional taxes at the local level. Consequently, the governor indicated in his State of the State address a willingness to support legislation to permit local option taxes for the benefit of highways and roads.
“So I’m expressing my support today for authorizing counties to ask taxpayers for permission to levy sales or use taxes to help pay for construction, repair and maintenance of public roads and bridges,” he told legislators.
“A two-thirds vote of approval still should be required, and voting should be limited to the May or November election dates to help ensure the best possible turnout.
“Now, I know the arguments against it. But those are questions that should be considered by local taxpayers – local voters. I may personally oppose a local-option tax that’s put before me. But my neighbors and I should have the right to decide that for ourselves.”
The governor also asked legislators to approve a 5 percent “Change in Employee Compensation” (CEC) package for state employees, to be awarded on a “merit” basis. At the same time, he asked for reductions in the state-funded portion of health insurance coverage.
“My budget proposes a 5-percent pay increase for all our state employees. The increase is part of a fundamental realignment of our total compensation package.
“We should continue ensuring that state employee pay is competitive with comparable private-sector jobs. And we must advance the important cause of ensuring that Idaho’s public school teachers are properly paid.
“At the same time, my proposal will make reasonable adjustments in the share of health-care benefits costs for which all our state employees are responsible.”
See full text of the State of the State address