Two sweeping transportation funding proposals were introduced in the Idaho Legislature on March 10, providing a first look at what legislative leaders will spend their time doing in the final weeks of the session.
However, the proposals introduced in the Senate are unlikely to be passed without facing significant edits in the House.
Furthermore, there’s no guarantee the Senate and House will reach an agreement on how to provide significant transportation funding before hitting the adjournment target date of March 24.
The first proposal, backed by Sen. Bert Brackett, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, would create roughly $530 million in transportation funding, primarily by allowing the state to issue $300 million in bonds allowing the state to borrow money for road projects and repay it with future federal highway payments.
An additional $200 million would be issued in bonds to pay for state and local transportation projects.
The plan then allows surplus state general funds to transportation funds for an additional five years.
Idaho has been funneling a portion of the state’s excess funds to state roads and bridges since 2015, but that system is set to expire this year.
The bill would also replace the fuel tax funding Idaho State Police currently receives with 1 percent of the state’s general funds. This would free up an additional $17 million for roads and bridges without cutting ISP’s budget.
Finally, the bill would exempt sales tax on road materials, which is estimated to be as high as $12 million.
“We owe it to the people of Idaho to address the highway situation, and this is an honest effort to do that,” Brackett said.
If that proposal fails, the second bill would be considered. It would allow the state to issue $300 million in bonds.
Each proposal includes a list of 12 projects the bonds may be used on, including the I-84 corridor going through Ada and Canyon counties, US-95 along the state’s northern corridor and building a new Snake River crossing near Twin Falls.
Brackett’s proposal was introduced with no discussion by the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee. Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, cast the only no vote. Hagedorn has been a leading proponent pushing the Legislature to address health care in Idaho this session.
“In the event we deadlock on the larger bill, the fallback is the small one, and that’s a must-have,” Brackett said. “That’s in consideration of … everyone else who drives the interstate.”
In 2015, Brackett was one of the six members of a rarely used legislative panel tasked with coming up with a transportation deal after the House and Senate found themselves once again at odds on how to deal with the state’s growing transportation funding deficit.
That session ended with multiple Senate leaders accusing the House of refusing to compromise and a renewed distaste for using the so-called conference committee in the future.