by Sharon Fisher
‘If you own a house or a car, you’re familiar with “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” There’s a certain amount of maintenance you need to do to make sure the house or car keeps working without costing a lot of money. It’s cheaper to change the oil regularly than have the engine seize up, and it’s cheaper to fix the roof every couple of years rather than waiting for a leak to show up.
Unfortunately, a bunch of Idahoans – including state government officials –apparently haven’t heard of this saying, at least in connection with Idaho state roads.
Iif you’ve been doing any driving around Kuna lately, you’ve run into the chipseal project. ACHD is maintaining the roads so they’ll stay good and don’t get potholes. There’s also bridges that are being repaired, like the one on Linder (Linder has bridges?). But the state hasn’t been funding similar repairs on state roads.
Different states have different ways of paying for roads. In Utah, for example, some of the general fund –revenue collected from sales taxes and income taxes – is devoted to roads. In Idaho, transportation is a dedicated fund, meaning revenues are collected only from things related to transportation, such as gas taxes and car registration.
There’s certainly advantages to that method. It makes sure that the people funding roads are the people using them, and that the people using the roads the most are the ones funding the roads the most. The problem is, in recent years there hasn’t been enough money to do the maintenance the roads need. For example, a lot of us are driving smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, meaning that less gas tax is being collected. While there are other ways to collect revenue from people who drive more, those start getting into personal privacy issues – like a GPS attached to your car that keeps track of the miles you drive in Idaho and then reports back to the state.
The problem is, without the money, the required maintenance for the roads isn’t getting done. This makes it more expensive to fix later on – in fact, in 2010, the Governor convened a research panel that found that Idaho should be spending $250 million a year on road maintenance. Not doing this maintenance also makes it more likely that there’ll be some sort of accident – like the bridge that collapsed in Washington in 2013 — before things get fixed.
Some members of state government have been trying to find funding for road maintenance, without a lot of luck, because pretty much all the ways to do that require raising a tax or a fee somewhere. And certainly no legislators want to raise taxes or fees in election years – and they’re elected every other year. This year, the Legislature and the Governor didn’t even bother trying.
Unfortunately, a lot of Idahoans seem to agree with them. A recent survey found that while half of Idahoans said increasing road funding should be one of Idaho’s top three priorities, about a third of the people surveyed said maintenance should be paid for only with existing taxes and fees. Less than 10 percent of the people said they’d be willing to pay higher gas taxes, even though Idaho hasn’t increased gas taxes or registration fees in 18 years.
At the same time, more than a quarter of those surveyed said they thought Idaho’s roads and bridges would be “completely inadequate” in 10 years, while nearly half said the roads and bridges would be “somewhat inadequate.” They’re just unwilling to pay any more money to keep them adequate.