Thinking About How to Fund Transportation
Millennium Fund and Crisis Centers
Idaho was part of a class action lawsuit against tobacco companies in 1998, and now receives about $20 million dollars every year from the settlement! That money, much of which has been saved in an endowment that is currently worth about $375 million, has been designated to fund programs to prevent or help people recover from addiction to tobacco and other substances.
The legislature’s Millennium Fund Committee met this week and voted to support recovery centers around the state. The Latah Recovery Center will use money from this grant to help expand the programs outside of Moscow. Please keep your eye on this issue. The Millennium Fund Committee just makes recommendations to JFAC.
This recommendation was a bit of a surprise because Governor Little had wanted to use all the available Millennium Fund money to cover the first year of Medicaid expansion. The Committee denied his request. I really support this action. Our Recovery Center has been doing great work in Moscow and expanding their capabilities to serve rural communities can really help! I also think that using these funds as a one-time source of money for Medicaid expansion is an poor use of the endowment funds. The citizens of Idaho voted in favor of Medicaid expansion, so we should honor that vote and fund it directly in the budget.
One thing I heard loud and clear during the campaign was how critical our transportation system is throughout Benewah and Latah County. Almost all the commodities grown or produced in our area are shipped out by truck! I am very happy to serve on the Senate Transportation Committee.
One big issue for the Transportation Committee this year is the “surplus eliminator”, a 50-50 formula that splits any money left over in the general fund at the end of the year, with half going to the Budget Stabilization Fund (the state’s main rainy-day savings account), and the other half going to road and bridge projects. In 2018, that was about $100 million with $50 million going to transportation. At our annual update meeting on Thursday, the Idaho Department of Transportation (ITD) called for extending the “surplus eliminator” which sunsets this year.
Our local highway districts and cities receive a much-needed 40% of the transportation share, an important revenue source for any road improvements, like replacing bridges.
Our rainy-day fund now has about 10% of our annual budget saved up. This is a reasonable cushion in case of recession. Perhaps we can refrain from increasing it.
I am uneasy with our funding approach for transportation, and would prefer a system of direct user fees for roads, like the gas tax, commercial and non-commercial vehicle registrations, or other fees to fund transportation, as they track with who uses and who benefits from our road system. And, I would prefer to save extra general fund revenue for education. It’s difficult to raise any tax in Idaho, but, we are dependent on the road system and need a fair way to fund its maintenance and enhance safety.
One idea I have been talking about is to use some fraction of the surplus eliminator monies to build up an endowment to help fund facilities for our K-12 schools. Currently, about the only way to fund these facilities is to pass a local bond with a 2/3 supermajority vote. The state provides no help at all. A dedicated fund could be established to lower the cost for our schools, perhaps by matching a local bond, dollar for dollar.
Please let me know what you think about the “surplus eliminator” for funding roads. Should we continue to funnel 50% of our general fund surplus to transportation projects? Share your ideas on this issue with me.
District 5 – Upcoming Discussion Sessions
February 2: Mat Erpelding and I will be doing a Pizza and Politics to provide an update on the Democratic Party’s Progress in the 2019 Legislature. We will be at the HIRC, 1724 East F St., Moscow beginning at noon. The session is hosted by the Latah County Democrats.
The Moscow Chamber will also host district 5 legislators for discussion sessions on February 9 and 23, and March 9 and 23.