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Critical interest in road, bridge funding

Idaho’s road and bridge infrastructure is not headed toward a bright future, and the solution is to increase public spending to address this critical public interest.

Who said that? You did, according to results from the recently released highway survey conducted by the University of Idaho’s McClure Center for Public Policy Research.

Survey results show roughly half of likely voters believe increased funding for roads and bridges should be among the state legislature’s top three priorities, that this infrastructure is adequate for today but not 10 years from now.

“The study shows that virtually all likely voters in Idaho make a connection between transportation and the economy. And, a solid majority say the existing roads and bridges in Idaho will not be adequate 10 years from now. The key policy question is where to find revenue to pay for what Idaho’s voters clearly see as important,” said Priscilla Salant, McClure Center interim director.

Right now, politicking is likely the least pressing issue in your mind as both the recreational and occupational obligations of the summer are demanding our immediate attention in this all-too-short season. And discussing the merits on improving a county road, or a state highway or bridge is, frankly, a pretty dull topic when compared with all the fun hot-button stuff (insert your pet peeve here) that gets us yelling at our friends and neighbors at picnics and across the Internet.

But you get it; we all do as we bounce along rutted, pitted roads here and there, and wonder how much longer that bridge deck is going to last. And now, come to mention it, yeah, that’s how we bring in the new money to this community is shipping out our grain, timber and other manufactured goods on these vital roads, bridges and highways.

Point taken: OK, all that blacktop is pretty essential, and now we’re started on a talking point for when candidates come knocking when election season resumes come fall.

Another part of the survey discussed funding: A substantial majority of likely voters are more willing to support increased funding for roads and bridges due to safety and economic concerns and are not dissuaded from supporting increased funding because it might increase taxes or lead to government waste. However, likely voters expressed the most support for funding sources that are the least likely to generate significant levels of funding.

What’s the problem? According to Salant, “Revenue to support highway maintenance and capital improvements is flat or declining in real terms, while the use of this infrastructure and the costs to maintain it are increasing.”

What’s the solution? According to those surveyed, least popular were increasing property taxes, adding a mileage-based fee, toll roads and charging/increasing fuel taxes; moderate support for these ranged from 17 to 28 percent. Perhaps the McClure Center has numbers that show these as the best funding options; however, what measures did those surveyed prefer? Using the current sales tax on automotive parts and tires, increase vehicle registration fees (commercial, passenger, light trucks) and charge a one-time fee on new or used vehicle purchases. Moderate support for these options ranged between 40 to 46 percent.

For the legislature, in determining its best funding options, we’d recommend against the easy out of nailing property owners for yet another hit, and we prefer spreading the cost to those who use the system – both residents and non-residents – through adoption of several fee and tax increases. Having some or all of these increases sunset after a period of time would emphasize public concern these funds are wisely used for their intended purposes, evaluation of which would determine whether this source of revenue would continue into the future.

Join the public discussion on this, and check out the survey highlights — in six easy pages to review – online here.

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