Idaho Voters Would OK Higher Road, Bridge Taxes

By Tom Bacon

For many Idaho lawmakers, the word "tax" is a four-letter word. So it may surprise them to discover that most Idaho voters would be willing to absorb tax increases to pay for good roads and bridges. The University of Idaho McClure Center for Public Policy Research found out through telephone polling last spring that boosting spending on highways and bridges should be among the legislature's top three priorities.

On top of that, a "substantial majority" of voters would support increased spending - even if it hikes taxes - because they believe that highway safety and economic benefits are so important. The poll results were released just as federal lawmakers re-convened after their July 4th recess to be faced with a nearly empty transportation funding account.

The US Highway Trust Fund is rapidly going broke because the 18-cent-a-gallon federal gasoline tax can no longer cover bridge and highway construction costs.

A couple of Oregon congressmen have presented possible solutions.

Portland Congressman Earl Blumenaur's bill would gradually increase the tax to 33 cents a gallon over the next several years. He would also let states experiment with charging drivers by the mile, not by the amount of gasoline they buy.

His House colleague, Peter DeFazio, would wipe out the federal gasoline tax altogether and impose a federal tax on crude oil produced in the US. States including Idaho have been warned that the trust fund will run out of money next month, meaning that construction reimbursements will be cut by at least 28 percent. 

The McClure Center researchers said Idaho voters across the state see a strong relationship between the economy in general and money for roads and bridges. The key policy question for state lawmakers, they said, is where to find the revenue to pay for what voters see as important.

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