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291From The Idaho Statesman, Friday, November 17, 2006, Main page 3

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  • grfranklin53
    Nov 18, 2006
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      Lawmakers to consider sales tax on gas

      Idaho Transportation Board recommends sales tax,
      other measures to keep up with road-related inflation

      by John Miller
      The Associated Press

      Driving in Idaho may get more expensive.

      The Idaho Transportation Board recommended Thursday that the state
      keep its 25-cents-per-gallon gas tax, while extending the 6 percent
      sales tax to fuel.

      The board says the additional money from the sales tax is needed
      because the state faces an annual shortfall of $200 million for
      highway construction - or $6.1 billion over the next 30 years.

      "We're not just crying wolf here," board Chairman Frank Bruneel
      said. "Skyrocketing construction and maintenance costs, stagnant
      revenues and Idaho's explosive growth have created a funding crisis
      that needs to be addressed."

      The request will be forwarded to the 2007 Legislature and Gov.-elect
      Butch Otter.

      Officials said levying a sales tax on gas could raise $108 million
      per year. The board, which oversees the state's road-building
      agency, also recommended that lawmakers pass measures to raise an
      additional $95 million.

      Those include proposals to eliminate a tax exemption for ethanol,
      boost vehicle registration fees by 75 percent, and levy a new state
      surcharge on rental cars. Other proposals would increase fees by 75
      percent for trucking permits and Transportation Department services,
      and introduce road-related impact fees on new construction.

      The new money would help pay for state and local highways, Idaho
      State Police, railroad crossings, bridge inspections and the state
      Department of Parks and Recreation.

      The plan is based on a report by the Forum on Transportation
      Investment, an independent committee that in two years has held 14
      meetings across Idaho. It made recommendations on how to improve the
      highway system - and find a way to pay for it.

      Federal funding is expected to stagnate, even as new roads and
      bridges will be needed while existing ones age and require more

      In addition, officials say the prices of concrete, asphalt, steel
      and fuel have driven up construction costs in recent years,
      including an estimated 16 percent rise this year.

      By keeping the existing per-gallon fuel tax and adopting a sales tax
      on fuel, officials hope to keep up with inflation in road-building
      and other transportation costs.

      The existing fuel tax, which at a quarter-dollar is the 21st highest
      in the U.S., hasn't been increased in a decade.

      At the same time, inflation and more-efficient vehicles have dented
      what's historically been a primary source for funding Idaho's
      transportation improvements, ITD said.

      Meanwhile, vehicle registration fees that range from $24 to $48 also
      haven't been increased since 1997.

      Economists compared the cost of registering a 2006 Toyota Camry -
      the most popular model of car in Idaho - to other states. They found
      it would cost just $49 in Idaho to register the car, compared with
      $425 in Maine, one of the most expensive states for vehicle
      registration fees.

      Despite the recommendations, board members acknowledged they have no
      power to demand Otter and lawmakers to follow their lead this
      January, when the 2007 session starts.

      "I can pretty much guarantee that from watching the Legislature for
      a number of years, what we pass is not what they're going to pass,"
      said board member Monte McClure.