Funding conference speakers say
The seventh in a series of statewide conferences about Idaho’s transportation funding shortfall attracted nearly 300 people in Boise Tuesday, including Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, and transportation officials from Washington, D.C.
“The message was loud and clear,” Gov. Otter said of public responses at conferences from Coeur d’Alene to Pocatello. “Fix our roads, and fix them now.” The issue is not limited to northern Idaho or southern Idaho and is not confined to a political party, the governor added. Idaho’s transportation system is a shared infrastructure, and the funding dilemma will require a shared solution.
“I don’t know what the solution is…” he said. But the six previous conferences, attended by about 850 Idahoans, generated a lot of ideas from which he can choose. “Idahoans historically have been very independent and realize the only helping hand is at the end of their sleeve,” he said.
Gov. Otter’s remarks set the stage for a full morning of presentations, including perspectives from new Federal Highway Administrator Tom Madison and John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation officials.
Sen. Crapo, who joined Gov. Otter as co-host of the conference, said the Federal Highway Trust fund has steadily eroded and faces the imminent threat of a deficit by next fiscal year. A bill stalled in Congress that sought to restore some of the funds diverted for non-transportation purposes.
Sen. Crapo hopes another attempt will be made next fiscal year. At the same time, Congress also will begin work on reauthorization of the federal transportation bill – a successor to SAFETEA-LU (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act – A Legacy for Users).
It is highly possible that instead of a new six-year authorization, Congress might approve a one-year continuing resolution or a one-year transportation bill. He is confident that a new bill will be approved, “even if in a patchwork fashion.”
Congressional debates over transportation funding and the needs that surfaced the past year in virtually every state, demonstrate the importance of finding a new funding source. “The need for another revenue source is very, very grave,” he told a near capacity crowd at the Boise Centre on the Grove Tuesday.
In the midst of slow economy, diminishing resources and a nearly depleted Highway Trust Fund, “the need has never been greater to find a new funding source.”
Tuesday’s conference included more than a dozen speakers, moderated by Idaho Sen. John McGee, Caldwell, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. He concluded the three-hour session by inviting attendees to provide written testimony and participate in a public meeting scheduled from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.