The Idaho Grain Producers Association plans to make improving the state’s roads, bridges and short-line railroads a lobbying priority again during the 2020 Legislature despite an expected tight state budget.
Transportation funding is always high on IGPA’s legislative agenda, and for years the association has advocated more spending on road and bridge repairs, government affairs director Rich Garber said at a Oct. 29 meeting of the group’s board in Boise.
When revenues are tight, transportation is an easy issue for lawmakers to defer.
Wheat and barley are two of Idaho's top commodities. Idaho grains are also important because they are grown virtually statewide and draw domestic and international buyers.
IGPA supports increasing state revenue for transportation, though it has stopped short of advocating raising taxes to do so. The legislature in 2015 raised vehicle registration fees and the state’s per-gallon fuel tax — which is helped by population growth but hurt by continued gains in car and truck efficiency.
Lawmakers also passed a law directing a portion of state budget surpluses to transportation. The law expired and was not renewed in 2019, so it's possible the legislature will take it up next year.
Garber said Idaho does not have many short-line railroads, “but the ones we have are critical. They have deteriorated dramatically over the years, and there has been almost no investment.”
A proposed tax credit for investment in short-line railroad improvements failed in the 2018 and 2019 legislative sessions, but is likely to return in some form in 2020, he said.
IGPA executive director Stacey Satterlee said a tax credit transfer provision proved unpopular. This year’s House Bill 61 would have allowed a one-time transfer of the proposed short-line railroad investment tax credit, from the taxpayer to an eligible customer or vendor.
While a tax credit would be tough to pass amid tight budgets, a carve-out from an existing program, or a pilot project, are possible alternatives, she said.
Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, who co-chairs the budget-setting Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, said the state’s estimated surplus for all of fiscal 2020 has dropped since the Legislature adjourned last spring, and lawmakers likely will be conservative with appropriations for fiscal 2021.
Next year’s legislative session starts Jan. 6.
Garber said IGPA will support an expected bill allowing hemp production in the state, per the 2018 federal Farm Bill. A similar effort failed during this year's session.
The 2019 Legislature adjourned without passing the usual rules-adoption bill. Gov. Brad Little subsequently ordered agencies to review and streamline administrative rules.
“Rules are going to be a big thing this session, and we will be watching it,” Garber said.