Gov. Otter introduces five bills
to generate new transportation revenue
Flanked by about 50 proponents of increased transportation funding, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter Tuesday outlined five legislative bills that would begin to address Idaho’s growing backlog of highway and bridge projects.
The half-hour news conference on the steps of the Capitol Annex came immediately after members of the House Transportation and Defense Committee agreed to send all of the bills for printing.
In doing so, the legislative committee agreed to begin discussion of Otter’s plan that would generate an estimated $174 million annually by the fifth and final year of implementing the revenue package. He recommends increasing the state fuel tax, which has been 25 cents per gallon since 1996, by two cents every year for the next five years, increasing the total fuel tax to 35 cents per gallon in 2014.
The increase would generate an estimated $17.6 million for highway and bridge projects next year and about $88 million annually by 2014. The other four components of Otter’s plan include:
Increase vehicle registration fees. The base cost for registering a vehicle in Idaho ranges from $24 to $48 annually, depending on the age of the vehicle and before local jurisdictions add any other fees. Under the governor’s proposal that would be implemented over five years, the base would be from $50.17 to $120.40.
The registration increase would provide an estimated $15 million the first year and about $51 million when fully implemented in five years.
A phased transition that would move funding of the Idaho State Police from the Highway Distribution Account (generated by fuel taxes) to the general fund and redirect money now used for law enforcement to the transportation department for highway projects. The transfer would provide about $3.2 million the first year and $16.9 million when fully implemented.
Add a 6 percent tax on rental car fees, creating an estimated $2 million annually.
Remove the existing exemption for ethanol fuel, providing an additional $4.13 million per year in revenue to the transportation department.
Gov. Otter also proposed increasing registration fees for large commercial trucks by 5 percent next year and establishing a broad-based analysis of fees assessed on commercial trucks to ensure those fees are proportionate to the impact trucks have on highways and bridges.
A strong fiscal conservative, Otter said he could not remember a time in his political career that he supported a tax increase.
“I can’t ever remember when I ever took the lead in raising taxes on anything, for any purpose. There were times when I joined in the fight, but after the fight had gotten started.”
Given the serious needs in transportation funding, the backlog of projects and the dire need to sustain Idaho’s economy, increased funding is essential, he said.
“I just want you to know that this isn’t an easy task, but I think it’s a necessary one,” he said.
“It’s one of the things that are necessary; those are the things that we must do, and I would tell you that I certainly put this on top of the category on necessary.”
Several of the supporters who spoke at the news conference called Otter’s proposal bold and courageous.
“Times are tough,” said Sen. John McGee, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “But if we put this off further, it’s really going to hurt Idaho families because we’ll have to ask for a lot more down the road.
“"We face catastrophic results if we don't fix Idaho's roads and if we don't fix them now,” he added.
Doug Sayer of Blackfoot-based Premiere Technologies, complimented the governor for his courage and leadership, and emphasized that Idaho businesses need a strong transportation infrastructure. “We have people ready to go to work; we can’t wait,” he said.
Several others offered their support of the transportation-funding package before Otter fielded questions from the news media.