Poll: Improve Idaho roads, avoid new taxes

A survey of Idaho voters shows little support for increasing the gas tax to fund upgrades.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESSJuly 9, 2014 

Fix it, but keep it cheap.

It's a mantra that Priscilla Salant, interim director of the University of Idaho's McClure Center for Public Policy Research, said she heard the most while polling voters on how state officials should address problems with Idaho's transportation system.

"There's no doubt voters understand we need to address the state's infrastructure," Salant said Tuesday after releasing the results of the survey. "It's now up to our elected leaders to figure out how to raise the revenue."

Like other states with aging highways and bridges, Idaho faces significant challenges to pay transportation maintenance costs.

A 2010 gubernatorial panel recommended that Idaho pay nearly a quarter of a billion dollars each year to keep up with its road and bridge repairs. Lawmakers have not approved the funds despite multiple bills submitted by Gov. Butch Otter, legislators and transportation officials.

Some cited the May primary election as one of the key reasons why lawmakers - many facing opponents ready to blast any tax increase - deferred from addressing transportation fixes during the 2014 legislative session. Instead, the lawmakers said they were waiting on the results of the survey.

The survey was funded and drafted by the McClure Center and has been released to the public and Idaho lawmakers, said Salant, who estimated the cost of the study at about $50,000.

Researchers conducted the poll over the phone from February to April. A total of 1,062 surveys were completed involving people who were identified as likely voters. The study had a 3 percent margin of error.

According to the study, more than a quarter of those surveyed said Idaho's roads and bridges would be completely inadequate in 10 years, while nearly half said the roads and bridges would be somewhat inadequate.

Asked how high a priority increasing funding for Idaho's roads and bridges should be for the Legislature, a little more than half of those surveyed answered it should be one of the top three.

However, less than one in 10 responded that they would strongly support increasing Idaho's gas tax when given nine different options on how to raise enough money to address transportation costs.

Using current automotive and tire taxes to fund roads and bridges received the most support, with nearly a third of respondents saying they strongly supported that option.

"The easiest solution is to double the gas tax," Wayne Hammon, Otter's former budget chief and now executive director of the Idaho Associated General Contractors, said in an interview. "Well, that is clearly not going to be palatable. ... Maybe we look at other things."

Hammon helped draft Otter's failed 2009 legislation intended to boost transportation funding. Since then, Hammon said, he's learned that Idaho's transportation solution must be drafted and led by the lawmakers.

"Legislators need to own this," he said.

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