Michelle Stennett

Michelle Stennett

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The Senate has voted 24-10 in favor of its twice-amended version of HB 325, the bill to double the amount of state sales tax revenue that’s diverted into transportation. The Senate amendments change where the money would go, in addition to doubling the amount, as the original House bill did, from 1% to 2% of sales tax revenues (after local revenue sharing). Under the Senate-amended bill, 60% would go to the Transportation Expansion and Congestion Mitigation Fund at ITD, which is similar to where the existing diversion goes; while 40% would go to a new ITD fund dedicated to repairing or replacing local bridges.

Senators debated long and hard on the bill, with some strongly objecting to sending more of the state general fund to roads, and others saying Idaho needs a solution for its deteriorating local bridges. Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, noted that a transportation funding deal half a decade ago raised the gas tax and registration fees but “we never went back and picked up the commercial trucks. There doesn’t seem to be the political will to do that,” she said. “We’ve been trying and trying.” In her district, she said, “We have had to shut down bridges so that school buses have to take a different route. … This is a public safety issue.”

The Senate-amended bill now heads back to the House for concurrence in the Senate amendments. Roughly $19 million a year is going to ITD now from the sales tax diversion, so doubling it would push that up to roughly $38 million. The bill also includes a requirement that the TECM fund, which gets 60% of the diversion under the bill, get a minimum of $15 million a year.

Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, co-chair of JFAC warned, “When the next recession comes, and it will, there won’t be enough money to go around. ITD will be competing with K-12, higher ed, prisons, Health & Welfare and dozens and dozens of other things.”

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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