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ITD does not ask for funding increase in JFAC

Posted at 11:01 AM, Jan 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-14 17:17:49-05

Idaho Transportation Department Director Brian Ness stood before a budget panel to discuss future funding for roads and his vision for the transportation agency.

Ness debriefed lawmakers on the work being done with nearly $95 million received through an increase in the state's gas tax. Long term, ITD will work on 44 projects. You can see what they are, and how far along they are here.

Last year, the director told lawmakers ITD needed an extra $262 million in annual funding just to keep our infrastructure repaired. The gas tax increase helped cover a third of that, but Ness says we are still short.
"We've slowed the rate of deterioration, but there's still some deterioration of our road and bridge system," he said.

One thing not included in Ness's presentation was a petition to fill the budget shortfall. He stopped short of saying there was no political will to raise the money. Instead, he wants to work with what budget he has.

"I think we need to see how much we can do with the money," he said. "We've done some amazing things in looking at how we become more efficient."

He indicated next year would be the time to step up to the plate for more money. Part of his reasoning is the sunset on the "surplus eliminator," a budget tool that pays any unexpected revenue to specific government agencies. ITD expects to get roughly $50 million from the surplus eliminator this year.

The director also spoke briefly about REAL ID and what the state needs to do to get into compliance with the feds. Ness said the ball is in the Legislature's court. His department cannot do anything until lawmakers give him the greenlight.

"I think now it comes down to a fundamental question," he said. "We're not the only state in this situation."

In previous sessions, lawmakers have expressly forbid ITD from working to comply with the unfunded REAL ID mandate. They've cited concerns of cost and security, since the standards require states to pool information.