Largest transportation funding bill of 2021 heads to Senate floor

Bill barely escaped amendments that would have slowed passage

By: - April 12, 2021 6:42 pm

Rotunda at the Idaho State Capitol building on March 23, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

The largest transportation funding bill of the Idaho Legislature’s 2021 session advanced to the Senate floor on Monday, narrowly avoiding a trip to the amending order that would have continued to delay an end to this year’s legislative activities.

House Bill 362 is a new version of a bill introduced earlier in the session that increases the sales tax used to pay for roads and bridges projects through bonds within the Transportation Expansion and Congestion Mediation program. The current tax of 1% would increase to 4.5%, which would raise an estimated $87.8 million. 

About $80 million of that would be distributed to the state’s general fund, and the remaining amount would be allocated to local highway districts. The legislation aligns with the funding request from Gov. Brad Little, who said the $87.8 million would allow bonding of up to $1.6 billion for roads and bridges. Transportation bonds are fixed-rate bonds issued by government agencies to fund long-term, large scale projects such as new roads.

Several people testified in favor of the bill, including Idaho Association of Counties Executive Director Seth Grigg, and Wayne Hammon, chief executive officer of the Idaho Associated General Contractors. But the committee also heard from Sen. Jeff Agenbroad, R-Nampa, who testified that it was a good bill overall that would benefit from a few amendments. 

Agenbroad proposed changes to the funding structure that would combine sales tax revenue and funding from the Legislature over the next four years, which he said would provide more flexibility. He also proposed changes to the funding formula that would fix the annual amount at $80 million rather than relying on a percentage of sales tax revenue.

Senators briefly debated the idea, with Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, saying he asked Agenbroad to speak to the committee because the idea was worth considering. However, he did not support amending the bill and suggested addressing it in a future session.

“I certainly believe it’s constitutional, so I don’t have any problem with it that way,” Winder said. “But I guess I would ask both our chairman and the House chairman to look at this in the next session and see if we can’t come up with a way to really look at the cash flow needs for the projects and how we might handle that, because I think it’s a valid question and I think it’s also a valid appropriating question.”

The motion to send the bill for amendments failed by a narrow 4-5 vote, and now advances to the Senate floor for consideration. It passed the Idaho House of Representatives on April 8 by a vote of 59-11.

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Kelcie Moseley-Morris
Kelcie Moseley-Morris

Kelcie Moseley-Morris is an award-winning journalist who has covered many topics across Idaho since 2011. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Idaho and a master’s degree in public administration from Boise State University. Moseley-Morris started her journalism career at the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, followed by the Lewiston Tribune and the Idaho Press.