With communities across Idaho flooding under melting snow and ice and roads and bridges suffering under a worse-than-average winter, a House committee Friday stuck a legislative finger in the dike with modest bills to deliver more money for transportation maintenance and repair.
But a divided Transportation committee killed the biggest-ticket measure that would have raised $49 million for roads and bridges with a five-cent gas tax hike. The measure died on a 9-7 vote.
“We have a surplus this year and a decent surplus, and I’m not inclined to raise taxes in a surplus year,” said Rep. Brandon Hixon, R-Caldwell, before voting against the measure.
Supporters of the proposal from Rep. Clark Kauffman, R-Filer, cited the extreme winter weather that has wrought heavy damage and underscored the state’s unmet transportation repair needs. They said surplus funds were earmarked for other uses and not appropriate for ongoing maintenance.
Several, including Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, cite few or no complaints from residents two years ago when the Legislature raised the gas tax 7 cents, the first increase in nearly two decades.
“But I tell you what, we’re going to hear about it if we don’t fix our roads and bridges,” Youngblood told the panel.
The committee introduced another bill that would free up roughly $16 million more for infrastructure by gradually moving part of the state police budget off of gas tax revenue and into the state’s general fund. Two other measures would both extend another 2015 transportation funding initiative set to expire this year that dedicates a portion of extra annual surplus to infrastructure. One version of the bill would split the extra dollars 60-40 between the state and localities.
The three measures approved will come back to the committee in the coming weeks.