BOISE — A bill to shift fuel tax revenue from the Idaho State Police into roads failed to pass the Senate by a single vote Tuesday.

The state police get about $18 million a year of their $70 million budget from fuel tax revenue, which is earmarked to be spent on patrol. The bill, which passed the House in February by an almost party-line vote, would have moved the $18 million into state and local roadwork accounts over the course of five years. The intent, supporters said, would be to keep the state police whole by replacing it with general fund monies.

“This is not about defunding the state police,” said Senate sponsor Bert Brackett, R-Three Creek. “I want to repeat that this is not about defunding the state police.”

All seven Democrats joined 11 Republicans, including the entire eastern Idaho delegation, to kill the bill 18-17.

“I can’t in good conscience put any more strain on the general fund for transportation dollars until the interim committee for transportation funding agrees to meet and come up with a long-term plan,” said Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise. “We need a long-term plan for funding our roads and bridges in this state, and that long-term plan has to include dedicated funds.”

Sen. Kelly Anthon, R-Burley, said he had voted against the idea in the past. While he said he agreed Idaho needs a long-term transportation plan, he also thought local highway districts need the help.

“When we don’t spend enough money … to fix the roads, it falls on the general fund of local government,” he said. “In my district, additional property taxes have been levied just to pay for roads.”

Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said the bill’s passage would end up affecting education funding, since the state police would be competing with it and other programs for general fund dollars. There are other ways the state can pay for roads, he said.

“I believe this should be the very last thing that we take off this dedicated source,” Mortimer said.

Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, who is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the state’s overall budget has been growing quickly, and that the bill could threaten the state police’s funding during the next economic downturn.

“Wouldn’t it be a lot better to keep the state police on a (dedicated) fund source so they’re not placed in direct competition with those general fund dollars?” he asked.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.

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