Idaho bill to aid road work moves forward

April 13, 2021

Keith Goble


Idaho lawmakers could soon approve a bill that would provide a boost for road and bridge work.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted Monday to advance a bill to more than quadruple revenue available for a transportation program to benefit road work. House lawmakers late last week voted 59-11 to endorse the road work funding plan.

Dubbed the Transportation Expansion and Congestion Mitigation program, the four-year-old program provides additional funds for statewide construction projects through bonding.

A 2017 law authorized the state to shift a portion of sales tax revenue from the general fund to the transportation program. Specifically, 1% of the state’s sales tax revenue is deposited into the program intended to expand state highways. The sales tax revenue stems from the state’s cigarette tax.

Road work help could soon be on the way

The bill moving through the statehouse would more than quadruple the amount of sales tax revenue made available for the TECM program.

Sponsored by House Transportation Chairman Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, the bill is a revised version of legislation previously introduced this regular session. Both bills call for shifting 4.5% of the tax revenue into the transportation program. Essentially, the change would provide an $84 million boost for the program in the first year.

H362 would allow $1.6 billion in bonding for road work projects at the state and local levels over 20 years, according to a fiscal note attached to the bill.

The previous version of the legislation, H314, would allot 30% of the bond proceeds to cities, counties and local highway districts.

Instead, H362 would provide a fixed $80 million annually to the Idaho Transportation Department for traffic flow and mitigation.

Local jurisdictions would split the remaining funds for road and bridge work. According to a fiscal note attached to the bill, the amount available for local jurisdictions in the first year is expected to be $4 million.

The funds would be made available for purposes “including but not limited to” improving traffic flow and to mitigate congestion.

The right move

Palmer has said although he is not 100% comfortable with bonding, it is the right move for the state.

“When we are looking at major projects that need to be done because of the influx of people, and the opportunity we have because of the growth to capture this money and pay for major projects, right now while the interest rates are so low there is no better way of doing it,” Palmer testified.

Critics say they are concerned about borrowing. They question whether borrowing is unconstitutional.

Palmer said the previous version did not limit bonding. He said H362 is a better bill because it limits bonding.

“This bill actually limits (bonding). So, I think it’s actually a better bill to limit bonding and set it into statute in a way that makes the state safer and takes care of our transportation,” Palmer said while speaking on the House floor.

The bill awaits further consideration on the Senate floor. LL

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