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Idaho House committee endorses up to $100 million for roads

truck on highwayA House panel is endorsing a bill to raise $70 million to $100 million for Idaho’s crumbling roads, marking the first major hurdle cleared by a transportation funding plan as the legislative session approaches its end.

The House Transportation and Defense Committee’s 12-4 vote March 18 would draw roughly $13 million in general funds for roads every year the general fund grows at least 4 percent.

Republican Reps. Jason Monks from Meridian and Greg Chaney from Caldwell say their bill is a compromise between lawmakers split between using general funds and raising taxes.

“It seems like no matter which direction we went there were people telling us we didn’t go far enough and people telling us we went too far,” said Monks. “This is something we can do right now.”

The plan also includes a temporary 5-cent fuel tax hike, as well as a 2-cent transfer fee increase. It would tackle roughly a third of a $262 million annual shortfall for road maintenance that a governor’s task force revealed in 2010.

“The longer we go without action on transportation, the more we stifle the growth of businesses we have already and deter others from moving into the state,” said Chaney.

The bill now goes to the full House.

Still, the Monks-Chaney plan drew opposition from education advocates, who oppose using Idaho’s general tax dollars on transportation.

“Any growth in the general fund also potentially means a growth in funding for public schools,” said Robin Nettinga, executive director of the Idaho Education Association.

But organizations like the Association of Idaho Highway Districts and the Idaho Transportation Coalition acknowledged the urgency of the problem and were willing to accept the compromise.

“If everyone here who is opposed to House Bill 260 gets their way, there is no transportation bill. That’s a fact,” said Jeremy Chou from the American Council of Engineering.

Two other bills — including a $100 million plan from GOP leadership to raise fuel taxes and registration fees — are still pending before the committee.

Majority Caucus Chair Rep. John Vander Woude will introduce a new version of House leadership’s bill later this week.

The proposal will replace a plan the Nampa Republican introduced last week that would have raised the fuel tax 5 cents and increased registration fees.

A third plan aims to use $120 million in general fund dollars to maintain the state’s crumbling roads.

Dubbed the “one-year sacrifice,” the plan from GOP Rep. Steven Harris from Meridian would dedicate most of next fiscal year’s general fund growth to roads, leaving little funding for any other initiatives.

About The Associated Press