Idaho's highway bill moves to governor

| 4/8/2005

A standoff between Idaho state lawmakers and Gov. Dirk Kempthorne about a $1.6 billion state highway bill ended this week with compromise.

House lawmakers voted 47-23 to approve Kempthorne’s centerpiece legislation, unveiled during his State of the State Address in January. The Senate quickly supported the revised version and forwarded it to the governor.

The agreement allows Idaho to fund a sweeping highway plan with grant-anticipated revenue vehicle bonds, or GARVEE bonds.

The massive highway plan, dubbed “Connecting Idaho,” is intended to provide funding for future state highways during the next decade, instead of a quarter century.

The funding program allows the state to borrow money against the federal transportation dollars that come each year to pay for construction. The sale is based on the assumption that federal funding in future years would pay off the bonds. This allows the state to get money needed for the project up front.

Kempthorne said his goal is to bring the north and south together with a four-lane highway stretching from the Canadian border to the Treasure Valley, the Idaho Statesman reported.

The governor last week vetoed several bills in retaliation against House Transportation Committee members who were blocking the effort.

Lawmakers compromised on the percentage of federal funds used to repay the bonds. Over the next four years, the state’s annual spending will be limited to 20 percent of all federal fuel tax money being routed to the 13 proposed road projects sought by Kempthorne. In year five, the cap would increase to 30 percent. Beyond that, the Legislature would be required to vote again to increase the percentage.

The bill also gives the Idaho Transportation Department wiggle room to decide which projects to build. The original version offered by the governor provided a list of 13 specific projects, but the amended SB1183 no longer includes those limits.