It felt really good to stand in the back of the room while the Flying M Six presented a state transportation funding plan to the House Ways and Means Committee this afternoon. Looking at Governor Otter's idea of requiring a $150 across the board annual vehicle registration fee and at the other plans proposed so far, we decided there could be more equity and more account for how much impact trucks, especially heavy trucks have on roads. Six of us democrats from the house sat in the sun one afternoon early this week wit calculators, a computer and cell phones to draft a plan. A photo appears a few post back on this blog at Alternative Solutions. http://notesfromthefloor.typepad.com/notes_from_the_floor/2008/03/alternatve-solu.html
Ways and means is an unusual committee made up of equal numbers of the house's Democratic and Republican leadership: Reps. Jaquet, Rusche, Sayler, Moyle, Bedke and Roberts, plus the chairman Rep. Rich Wills who I know to be one of the more honorable legislators in the body, (and one of the best actors. He's part of a theater troupe.)
The committee heard our presentation from Rep. Philis King first. An alternative proposal for personal vehicle registrations. Our proposal is hardly Otter's $150 and will include a hardship exemption for those who could not afford the $42 fee for an older car. Our increase at this level was less than a proposal from the committee earlier which would have made the fee $48 and would have provided no hardship exemption.
Rep. Ruchti got up next and proposed our 38% across the board increase in heavy truck fees and ton mile calculations (no, before working on this plan I did not know what ton miles were and that they were a way of accounting for impact on roads.)
Finally Rep. Ringo presented our proposal for a 2% sales tax on the retail price of gasoline. This was a hard decision, but to raise $100 million to address shortfalls in transportation funding without raising registration fees to $100 we had to get creative. This money, because it is not just based on the gallons of gas used, will hold revenue for roads steady, even as fuel consumption falls and prices rise.
All three bills got unanimous votes for introduction and the dialog was friendly, with the chair expressing enthusiasm for discussing the plans and coming up with a transportation funding solution we can reach consensus on.
Our plan included support for the bi-partisan Moving Idaho Forward local option sales tax legisation to allow local governments, with voter approval, to share in the cost of urgent local road projects and to let them construct public transportation projects such as light rail or trolleys, bus systems or other projects to reduce the need for expensive freeway and road expansions and reduce congestions on highways and roads.
Doing this felt good. It is hard to grab time to plan, especially to address an issue that comes up in the middle of a session. In fact, in general, I don't think legislatures plan ahead particularly well. We respond to crisis. Successfully finding elected law makers willing to spend or "invest" to avert disaster is hard. Disaster is typically more expensive than preventing the disaster. I think sometimes in conservative bodies like ours though we have to be pretty familiar with the data and projects to be ready to justify to voters why we used tax dollars for a project, especially if some might say it means "growing government," increasing regulation or raising taxes.
Something has to be really bleeding for the Idaho legislature to raise taxes. We seem to shift taxes readily, but raising them is feared now after years of anti-tax rhetoric from within the Republican party. Yet this year you heard Republican law makers and Governor Otter talking about more than doubling major car registration fees which almost every family pays. Pavement and tail pipes, over passed and rush hour traffic is bleeding in Idaho or about to bleed.