State Politics

Money for roads, repeal of hybrid car surcharge both accelerate in Idaho Legislature

House and Senate committees approved four transportation-related measures Tuesday including a modest increase in money for road and bridge repairs and a repeal of a registration surcharge for hybrid vehicles adopted in 2015.

The funding bill would divert roughly $16 million over five years to infrastructure by gradually moving part of the Idaho State Police budget from state gas tax revenues and into the state’s general fund. The proposal from sponsor Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, moved to the House floor on a 10-7 vote of the Transportation committee, which Palmer chairs.

“The transportation system is in dire straits,” Palmer said. “This is so that (state police) money can be used there. It’s easy.”

Opponents at the hearing, including the ISP Deputy Director Lt. Col. Kedrick Wills, acknowledged the urgent need for infrastructure dollars but cited the move’s potential impact on public safety if the shifted dollars are not fully made up in the general fund. Under the current funding scheme, ISP’s share of the state’s dedicated highway fund, supported by fuel taxes and registration fees, goes to patrol services exclusively.

“Nobody can guarantee that the money is going to be there to take up the slack when we remove this,” said Rep. Pat McDonald, R-Boise, a former state trooper.

Supporters including associations representing general contractors and civil engineers said deteriorating infrastructure is itself a safety concern for highway users.

“It’s a safety issue if our roads are falling apart,” said Wayne Hammon of the Idaho Associated General Contractors.

The House committee also approved a measure from Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, to allow motorists to drive 15 mph over the speed limit when legally passing on a two-lane road where the speed limit is 55 mph or higher. Dave Carlson of AAA of Idaho said the group was concerned with safety and could not support the bill.

Senate committee targets hybrid surcharge

The repeal of the $75 registration fee for hybrid vehicles passed the Senate Transportation Committee on a voice vote. When the higher fee was instituted in 2015, along with an increase in the state gas tax, hybrid owners got hit with paying more for both fuel and registrations.

Under the proposal from Rep. Stephen Harris, R-Meridian, the hybrid surcharge would be removed and only pure “plug-in” electric vehicles would pay a higher registration fee. The measure earlier passed the House unanimously and now moves to the full Senate.

The Senate committee also approved, on a voice vote, a proposal for two tiers of driver licenses, one that complies fully with federal REAL ID identification requirements and a second that does not. The latter option would be available to people with privacy concerns or who can’t provide all the documents required for the enhanced security license.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, now moves to the full Senate.

Bill Dentzer: 208-377-6438, @DentzerNews