BOISE — A few minutes after former Gov. Phil Batt saw his name unveiled on the Idaho Transportation Buildings north wall, he said other people were probably more deserving of the honor.
He had one thing to say to them.
"Tough luck, its mine," he said to laughter from a crowd of a few dozen that was packed with active and retired political dignitaries, including Gov. Butch Otter, former Gov. Cecil Andrus, state Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig.
Then Batt got serious. He scolded Idahos government for not raising gas tax to keep pace with inflation, a lapse he blamed for forcing the state to put off crucial maintenance of its roads and borrow federal money for road improvements.
He warned that, while Idaho receives more federal money than it pays in taxes, that flow could soon dry up as donor states lose patience with the inequity.
Batts transportation bona fides are unquestioned in Idaho. In his career as a legislator and governor, he helped push through some of the most important and politically risky transportation laws in decades. Jim Kempton, an Idaho Transportation Department board member and former legislator, credited him with helping with the passage of a bill that relaxed restrictions on heavy truckloads.
He knew that if you cant get goods to the market and people to the marketplace, you wont have a successful economy, said Darrell Manning, a former ITD director and board chairman.
It was also during Batts tenure as governor that the state passed its last gas tax increase, a measure Otter has tried and failed to duplicate. If gas tax had kept pace with the price of gas since the last increase, Batt said, it would now be about three times its current level of 25 cents per gallon.
People who spoke at Thursdays event talked about Batts toughness, sense of humor, skill as a musician and penchant for playing golf with an unorthodox and mysterious set of rules.
Several of the speakers credited Batt with negotiating and closing the 1995 settlement agreement that required the federal government to clean up nuclear and toxic waste on the U.S. Department of Energys 890-square-mile site west of Idaho Falls.
Batt said that wasnt quite right. He gave more credit for negotiating the deal to Andrus, though Batt was in office to sign it.
Sven Berg: 377-6275