By 2040, the Treasure Valley is expected to see 3 million vehicle trips a day — a 67% spike from 2018. Commutes from Star to Boise would lengthen by half an hour. A drive from Boise to Caldwell would take 16 more minutes, according to the governor’s office.
Idaho Gov. Brad Little pointed to anticipated congestion on highway systems as he toured the state last week to make a case for more transportation investments, highlighting the travel delays drivers would see if the state doesn’t act soon.
“We’re a victim of our own success, and what we have to do is properly plan,” Little said Tuesday, standing outside the Capitol Distributing office in Caldwell. “It’s just the right thing to do, to prudently plan for growth.”
On the state’s to-do list is about $8 billion in transportation projects, said Alex Adams, head of Little’s Division of Financial Management. Highway expansions in the Treasure Valley alone are estimated to cost anywhere from $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion.
Idaho legislators have another two weeks to approve a slew of appropriation bills and decide how to spend the state’s roughly $600 million surplus.
Little said the current version of a transportation bill — House Bill 342, which passed in the House — doesn’t provide the state with enough money. Little in his State of the State address proposed $80 million a year. The measure would fall short of that. House members last month overwhelmingly approved a bill that would dedicate more of the state’s general fund to ongoing transportation expenses. But that bill is likely to change.
LOCAL TAXING DISTRICTS COULD GET LESS AFTER NEGOTIATIONS IN IDAHO LEGISLATURE
Senate President Pro-Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise, by phone Friday said legislators are considering allowing a flat amount of $80 million a year to the state for bonding and leaving the rest for local jurisdictions.
That would leave far less for local taxing districts in the 2022 fiscal year. But the amount would grow as sales tax revenues rise in the following years, Winder said.
House Bill 342 would increase the portion of sales taxes that go to transportation projects to 4.5% from its current 1%. The state would receive 3%, while local jurisdictions receive the remaining 1.5%. That would be an estimated $56 million for the state and $28 million for local governments.
“I need the $80 million to do what we think is fundamentally important going forward,” Little said.
Little wouldn’t specify which projects he would like the state to prioritize. Idaho’s Transportation Department ultimately makes those decisions. But the $80 million in bonds a year would allow the state to pursue about $1 billion to $1.5 billion of those projects, Little said.
Kelley Packer, executive director of the Association of Idaho Cities, in a statement Friday applauded Little for wanting to invest in Idaho’s highway infrastructure.
“We also recognize that the latest round of stimulus money may provide opportunities for cities to invest in local infrastructure needs,” Packer said. “We are anxious to see the actual language in any proposed legislation, and remain optimistic that both the cities and the state roadway systems will get a much needed boost to meet transportation infrastructure needs.”
FISCAL PROBLEMS ‘STARVING’ TRANSPORTATION AND EDUCATION
The new ongoing revenue for transportation still falls short of what some policy analysts said Idaho needs. A Boise State University report last year concluded that the state needs an additional $241.8 million in revenue to maintain its current transportation infrastructure.
Vanessa Fry, director of the Idaho Policy Institute at Boise State University, said without the additional investment, the state would compromise its economy and public safety.
“There just hasn’t been the funding available to maintain what we need or to deal with expansion,” Fry said. “There’s been a bit of underinvestment, I would say, over a period of time — and it’s catching up with the state.”
Little initially supported an increase in Idaho’s gas tax. That wasn’t going to happen, he said Tuesday.
But dedicating a larger portion of Idaho’s sales tax revenue to transportation would mean less money in the general fund for K-12 education. Democratic opponents criticized the transportation bill for taking money from what would be education dollars instead of finding other solutions for ongoing revenue.
Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, was one of the four votes against the bill. She said it also reduces local jurisdictions’ share of the pot — the state used to split transportation dollars 50-50, then 60-40. This bill would give the state two-thirds of the overall transportation funding.
“Sales tax was originally intended to fund education, and we just keep stealing from it,” Toone said by phone Thursday.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, didn’t return requests for comment.
Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, who also opposed the legislation, said the bill was “a terrible solution to a very important issue.”
“What the Legislature is not doing is really addressing the underlying fiscal issues that are starving both education and transportation,“ Berch said.