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Idaho governor allows $320M road plan to become law

Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter allowed a nearly $320 million transportation funding plan to become law on April 11, despite lodging many criticisms against key aspects of the measure.

“Transportation has been one of the central focuses and primary frustrations of my three terms as governor,” Otter wrote in his transmittal letter to lawmakers and to the secretary of state’s office.

Otter went on to lament that mistrust and misunderstanding inside the Statehouse has stifled efforts to come up with a long-term solution to address the state’s aging infrastructure. Nevertheless, Otter said he could not veto the bill because he had no hope that lawmakers would successfully come up with a better solution in 2018 since they would be too worried about the upcoming election cycle.

In Idaho, the governor has small window to sign or veto bills once they reach his desk. If the governor chooses to do nothing, then the bill automatically becomes law.

The new transportation plan is primarily made up of $300 million in bonds to pay for new road projects and repay it with future federal highway payments.

However, the plan also includes funneling roughly $15 million, or 1 percent of the state’s sales tax revenue —which go into the state’s general fund — to pay for other infrastructure projects. This marks an unprecedented shift in lawmakers’ willingness to use previously taboo fund road and bridge maintenance.

That’s because general funds pay for public schools, and lawmakers have resisted creating a competing stream that could threaten to take away money from education. Roads and bridges were supposed to be funded relying on fee-for-service revenues, such as from gas taxes or vehicle registration.

In his 2015 annual address to lawmakers, the only section of Otter’s speech to be in all-caps and underlined was the Republican governor’s reiteration that he would block any effort to dip into the general fund for road construction and maintenance.

“So while I hope that lawmakers will reconsider the provision carving out 1 percent of state sales revenue from our general fund, House leadership has expressed to me that such reconsideration is highly unlikely,” Otter wrote. “But that is a discussion for the interim and beyond.”

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