Statesman Editorial: Legislature comes up short on road funding

It is apparent the Idaho Legislature is content to deal in fractions instead of whole numbers when it comes to sufficient funding for our crumbling roads and decaying bridges. Besides being a shame, it is going to cost us a lot more when the repairs come home to roost.

From the day Gov. Butch Otter introduced the transportation shortfall “elephant” in the room when the session opened — and you could even go back to 2009, when Otter made a failed run at the problem — it has never been a question about how much our lawmakers wanted to pledge for transportation. Those suffering tax phobia focused on the low-ball threshold rather than the $262 million to make things right, and $250 million more to put us in a position so we are not in this position again.

Something reported in The Spokesman-Review on Friday involving one of the members of the House-Senate Conference Committee to negotiate the transportation issue spoke volumes: “I’m not interested in surviving an election,” said Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. “I’m interested in doing the right thing, and doing the right thing means truthfully addressing the problem.”

House Democrats, Cameron and his Senate colleagues had hoped for more, but the committee settled on a $95 million deal Friday that includes a 7-cent gas tax increase and registration fee hikes of $21 for cars and $25 for trucks.

We think the Legislature missed a golden opportunity right after Otter’s speech. The price of a gallon of gas had fallen to $1.75, about $2 less than Idahoans had paid during price spikes in recent years. At about the same time an Idaho Politics Weekly poll reported that 79 percent of Idahoans agreed that funding for the Gem State’s roadways should be increased.

Doubling the gas tax to 50 cents and immediately enacting it would have been a stealth move whose tax tracks would have been covered by pump prices that climbed again in the ensuing weeks. That extra 25 cents, combined with higher registration fees, would have come much closer to the mark needed for future transportation needs.

Since that didn’t happen, the Legislature took a path to lower expectations before dropping the ball and kicking it around the Statehouse playground. The $95 million to be raised is barely more than one-third of the $262 million needed, and hardly makes a dent if you add the other $250 million. This approach to transportation funding is never going to add up.

About 11 months from now, when the Idaho GOP throws its $2 million presidential primary party at your expense, we think you should inquire about who paved the way for that in lieu of your roads. In 13 months we hope you turn your primary attention to the races involving the fraction faction at the polls.

Statesman Editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idahostatesman.com.