Did you know that for every gallon of gasoline you buy, you pay just over 18 cents to the federal government? This money is then distributed to the individual states to help pay for transportation projects, such as roads.
For Idaho, this is a good deal...as a state, we get about $1.37 for every $1 we contribute via the federal gas tax. However, the funding story isn’t quite as rosy, or simple, as it first appears:
• While we are fortunate to receive more federal transportation dollars than we contribute, that “extra” money comes from other states that receive less than they contribute, and they aren’t happy about it. There is pressure to change the system, which could mean less federal funds for Idaho.
• Federal funds are more “expensive” to use than local or state funds, as the money must follow federal procedures, which can be costly and time consuming. State and local funds generally have fewer “strings” attached.
• Competitive grants for some types of federal funding may be replacing special appropriations. These grants are to be based more on merits of a project and less on political influence. Unfortunately, the grant process may not be good for Idaho. Federal grants frequently require the local entities to pay for a percentage of a project through a local “match.” Projects with a higher percentage of local match are more likely to get funding. As Idaho does not have significant local dollars, we often are not able to contribute a significant portion of match, which puts Idaho projects at a disadvantage when competing for grants.
• Finally, there is movement for states to become less reliant on federal funds. Just over 50% of the road budget for the Idaho Transportation Department comes from federal dollars, so this shift could have significant local ramifications. Idaho does not have many “tools” available to increase funding for the transportation system and is a state that does not take raising taxes lightly.
The Governor’s Task Force on Modernizing Transportation Funding in Idaho is expected to bring recommendations on future funding options to the Governor and the Legislature this winter. In light of the federal funding picture, those recommendations will be extremely important to the future of Idaho’s transportation system.