Farmers lead discussion on transportation funding
BOISE — Transportation funding is shaping up to be a hot topic during the 2014 Idaho Legislature and farm groups are being asked to weigh in on the issue.
A governor’s transportation task force says an additional $262 million a year is needed just to maintain the state’s roads and bridges.
Two state lawmakers who are also farm producers have led the discussion on ways to come up with the money. They introduced four bills near the end of the 2013 legislative session that offered numerous proposals to increase transportation funding.
Sen. Bert Brackett, a Republican rancher from Rogerson, and Rep. Clark Kauffman, a Republican farmer from Filer, have discussed their proposals with numerous farm groups and others since April.
The ideas pitched in their bills included phasing in a 10-cent increase in the state gas tax and a 15-cent increase in the diesel tax over five years, raising registration fees for passenger and commercial vehicles and temporarily increasing the state sales tax a penny.
None of the proposals are likely to survive in their current form, Brackett said, and the legislation was introduced to get people talking about the issue.
“Our goal was to get the discussion started and we’ve been very successful in that, I believe,” he said.
AAA Idaho recently joined the fray when it launched a website — www.BetterRoadsforIdaho.com — dedicated to discussing ways to come up with the money.
According to Dave Carlson, AAA Idaho’s director of public and government affairs, the group’s “Better Roads, Fair Funding” initiative will include paid advertising and guest opinions and is “intended to identify collaborative solutions to Idaho’s funding shortfall.”
Nobody likes a tax or fee increase, Kauffman said, but the roads and bridges won’t fix themselves and the state’s farmers and ranchers rely on an adequate transportation infrastructure.
Rural areas have been more impacted by the lack of transportation funding than urban areas have, he said.
“If your farm-to-market route has a road with a deficient bridge on it and you have to go so many miles around it, that will impact you quite a bit,” he said.
Most of Idaho’s state funding for transportation comes from the gas tax and vehicle registration fees, which haven’t increased since 1996 and 1997, respectively.
Sen. Jim Patrick, a Republican farmer from Twin Falls, was among the lawmakers who supported Gov. Butch Otter’s unsuccessful push five years ago to increase transportation funding.
He knows it might not be any easier this time around because 2014 is an election year.
But farmers know better than anyone the impact a lack of adequate transportation funding has had on the state’s roads and bridges, Patrick said.
“We see the need because we use the local roads a lot,” he said. “We know there’s a need to get some money in there.”