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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Why are we still talking about this?

Transportation funding.

In case you hadn’t noticed, this is a recurring theme in my blogs, not to mention a significant portion of all COMPASS communications…emails, website, conversations, social media… You get the picture.

The question you may be asking yourself is “why?” The Idaho Legislature raised gas tax and registration fees to address the transportation funding shortfall, and Congress just passed a five-year transportation authorization and funding bill (the “FAST Act”) on December 4.

We have new transportation funding, so why don’t I just shut up already?

The answer is simple: it’s too important an issue to simply sit back and say “we’re done.”

The new funding generated by the 2015 increase in Idaho gas tax and registration fees amounts to about $9 million per year for local transportation agencies in Ada and Canyon Counties. While $9 million is a lot of money, and a much-needed boost, it still leaves the two-county area with a $150 million per year transportation funding shortfall.

While the five-year federal FAST Act provides some stability to transportation funding, it does not solve our transportation funding woes either. The bill keeps the federal fuel tax at 1993 levels and makes up for funding shortfalls with one-time injections of general funds. It does not include long-term solutions to increase transportation funding, keep up with inflation, or compensate for decreasing revenues from increasingly fuel efficient vehicles.

So, with the 2016 Idaho Legislative session set to start in a few weeks, I am continuing to beat the “we need more funding” drum.

I’ve been told not to expect any sort of funding increase from the Legislature this year. Last year’s increase was a long, hard battle that no one relishes repeating anytime soon. That said, there are things that can be done:
  • Continue to look at ways to diversify transportation funding mechanisms, beyond the traditional fuel taxes and registration fees.
    • As part of this discussion, we need to consider how diversified revenue streams could fund public transportation and other alternative transportation modes that fuel taxes cannot fund.
  • Increase funding and flexibility for local transportation agencies.
    • The “surplus eliminator” (additional funding contingent on a general fund budget surplus) provides support for state projects; let’s expand its benefits to local agencies.

 Let’s continue to have this conversation. It’s too important to put on the back burner.

Don’t Let the Treasure Valley Fall through the Cracks.

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Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho

COMPASS is the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization responsible for transportation planning in Ada and Canyon Counties. The COMPASS Board comprises 39 members representing the cities, counties, highway districts, educational institutions, state agencies, and other entities within the two counties. COMPASS plays an important role in making decisions about future long-range transportation needs in the Treasure Valley, taking into consideration environmental and economic factors that affect the quality of life.