BOISE — A bill to shift the share of funding Idaho State Police gets from the fuel tax into roadwork has passed the Senate Transportation Committee.
The committee voted unanimously to send the bill to the Senate’s amending order to make a minor tweak to ensure the money is split 60/40 between the state highway account and local highway districts. The current bill says the split would be 59.5/40.5 once the shift is done.
The state police get about $18 million a year of their $70 million budget from fuel tax revenue, money that is required by the state Constitution to be spent on highway patrol. This bill, which is being sponsored by House Transportation committee Chairman Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, would shift the money into roadwork in stages over the course of five years.
The intent, Palmer said, is to increase the amount of money the state police get from the general fund to make up for the lost revenue.
Palmer said Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, who supports the bill, has said he is committed to help find the money. Palmer said giving the state police more general fund money would give them more flexibility to spend it how they need to.
“Currently this gas tax money is locked onto to patrol,” Palmer said.
Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, expressed some concern about this, although she didn’t vote against the bill in the end. She said the state police don’t have enough troopers patrolling the highways as-is.
“I guess I’m just really concerned about that amount of money being replaced from the general fund,” she said.
The idea of shifting the state police share of fuel tax revenue into roadwork was floated in 2015, a year marked by a major debate over transportation funding, although it didn’t make it into the final compromise bill. Similar bills have been introduced every year since but haven’t passed yet.
“This approach to move it over a period of time is very responsible, and ... I think all of us here in this body are committed to making sure ISP has the necessary funding they need through the general fund,” said Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Nampa, who has sponsored similar legislation in past sessions.
All but one of the Democrats voted against Palmer’s bill in the House last month, citing concerns about getting rid of a dedicated funding source for the state police.
Nick Veldhouse, the executive director of the Idaho Association of Highway Districts, told the committee about rural highway districts that have had to convert pavement roads into gravel because they can’t afford an overlay.
Even what looks like a small amount of money for an individual highway district could make a difference, he said. For example, $25,000 could pay for a mile-and-a-half of chip seal. And $100,000, he said, could be a match for a $1 million federal grant, letting a highway district build a new roundabout, replace a deteriorating bridge or upgrade a major intersection.