Transportation legislation passed at end of session
BOISE — After two amendments, the formation of a rare conference committee and weeks of testimonies, a comprehensive transportation bill was sent to the governor’s desk at 1:30 a.m. Saturday, effectively marking the end of the 2015 legislative session.
The bill would raise about $94.1 million to support the ailing transportation infrastructure within Idaho, but fails to address the $262 million in annual backlog of road and bridge maintenance projects by the Idaho Transportation Department.
“It’s a good bill, it’s not a perfect bill, but it goes a long way,” said Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson and Senate Transportation Committee chairman. “Doing nothing is not a good option.”
Multiple legislators addressed the backlog shortcoming during both House and Senate chamber meetings.
“I’ve been here seven years, and this is the first time I’ve carried a piece of legislation that I am not comfortable with,” said bill sponsor Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian.
The bill ups the Idaho gas tax for the first time since 1996, from 25 to 32 cents per gallon. The bill estimates the increase would raise a total of $63.2 million for transportation.
Additionally, the bill would raise $26.8 million from increased registration fees on cars and light trucks and $3.5 million from fees on commercial trucks. Hybrid cars would be charged a $75 registration fee and electric cars a $140 fee, raising $641,000 for transportation expenditures.
The Senate first amended the bill, H.B. 312, last Tuesday. The original bill would have raised $20 million toward funding transportation shortcomings.
The Senate-amended version of the bill, or H.B. 312a, changed to a $127 million plan to raise registration fees on cars and trucks, cut fee increases on hybrid vehicles and tacked on an increased gas tax over four years.
“Some think it is maybe too high, some think it is too low, but it is a good down payment on our shortfall,” Brackett said.
However, the House rejected the amendments. Following the disagreement, the House and Senate chose three members from each chamber to create a “conference committee” to negotiate a compromise on the bill.
“This is something we don’t always do, but it is something we’ve done several times in the past,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley. “It seems to be a good push forward between the two bodies.”
The conference delivered the compromised bill to both the House and Senate — the Senate passing it with a 26-9 vote and the House with 51-19.
The passed bill is now on Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s desk, ready to be signed into law.
George Wood Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org