Not fighting it out in the press, eh?


After not fighting it out in the press for a few minutes, Gov. C. L. "Butch" Otter and House Republican leaders sent dueling guest opinions to the press today.

The first missive arrived (on our email, at least) from Otter's press team (not on his brand new, eminent domained Twitter feed, by the way [more on that in a later post]):
By Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter
Two and a half years ago I was honored to be elected your Governor. Since then I have traveled Idaho from corner to corner and met with many of you. You told me that our road system is not being adequately maintained and that something needs to be done. I listened, and made the issue a priority because it is a legitimate and proper role of state government. 

I worked with legislators and legislative leadership for two years. I supported a legislative audit that reinforced the conclusion that we are nearly $300 million behind in maintaining our transportation system.

I understand that these are difficult economic times and many of our Idaho families are struggling. I accept the argument that a recession is no time to be increasing costs — even pay-as-you-go user fees. However, that does not eliminate the need or our responsibility to act.

When families face tough choices in their household budgets, they choose what must be done. They protect what they have. They fix their old car, pickup or tractor. They get their old boots resoled. They patch their leaking roof. They consistently invest in what they have to avoid paying a far higher price later on.

That’s why my most recent compromise proposal to legislators includes delayed implementation of fuel tax increases. It includes a 3-cent increase in Fiscal Year 2011 and another 3-cent increase in Fiscal 2012. Along with a DMV fee adjustment and eliminating the state’s ethanol exemption, my plan would raise about $75 million a year when it’s fully implemented.

By the time the increases begin, most highway projects being financed with one-time federal stimulus money should be completed. All GARVEE projects should be authorized and most will be complete, and most of the legislative audit recommendations for improving efficiency and accountability at the Idaho Transportation Department should be implemented.

And perhaps most importantly, delaying implementation provides time to research better user-pay funding alternatives. That goes right along with the House of Representatives’ recommendation to establish an interim study committee on this issue. I have no problem with that under my delayed-implementation proposal.

But make no mistake: The Legislature must act this year to bring stability and predictability to the budgeting process with a reliable new source of revenue.

It is especially important to have our new funding stream fully in place in Fiscal 2012, because experts estimate that without it we may no longer be able to match federal highway funding with our existing state revenue. That would mean losing about $7 in federal allocations for every $1 that Idaho taxpayers provide for roads and bridges.

What’s at stake?

Every day, hundreds of thousands of Idahoans use our roads and bridges to travel to their homes, schools and work places. Those users pay their hard-earned dollars to travel safely. Yet too many miles of our roadways are crumbling, and half of our state’s bridges are more than 50 years old and approaching or beyond their structural lifespan.

It is our shared responsibility to ensure that our families and friends — our children and grandchildren — are able to travel on the safest roads possible in our state. Would any of us truly be unwilling to pay a few extra dollars for that peace of mind, even in the toughest of times? Aren’t our loved ones worth it?

Regardless of what you read, see or hear in the media, this is not about Democrat versus Republican, House versus Senate or Legislature versus Governor. It is an Idaho issue. It’s an issue that is not going away, and must be addressed now.

I urge you to contact your local legislators. Thank those who are supporting reasonable solutions; encourage those who have not to support good roads. Let them know you appreciate how difficult these decisions can be. And let them know that what you truly value most is your families and friends — your safety.

I appreciate your continued patience and support for the future of Idaho.

And then, later from the Group of Four, Denney, Moyle, Bedke and Roberts, Idaho House leadership:

This is nothing personal, but the people’s business in this legislative session has been completed. Looking around the Statehouse Annex last Friday, and seeing nothing happening in either legislative chamber, only confirmed this feeling.

We have finished all the appropriation bills and acted on the other pieces of legislation on our calendar. So we did what any other Idahoan would do when the job is finished: We adjourned for the year and most members went to their homes. If the Senate follows that course, we can stop reading these awful stories about how each day of a legislative session costs $30,000.

The Senate has not concurred with our adjournment, meaning we’ll be back for a brief session on Monday afternoon. However, with all our bills off the calendar, it’s doubtful that we will do much more than convene and adjourn sine die again. We fully agree that this is a poor way of spending $30,000 of taxpayer money. But until the Senate concurs, House members have no choice but to return every three days.

Again, this is nothing personal. We’ve heard speculation that House members were being defiant of the Governor, or there may be some kind of vendetta with the Senators. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Governor is our friend and the leader of our party. We have the utmost respect for our colleagues in the Senate. We may disagree on occasions — which is part of the legislative process — but we never doubt the convictions or sincerity of our friends.

This brings us to transportation funding, the issue that won’t go away. The Governor has made it clear he wants $80 million in new taxes (mostly fuel taxes) to spend for road maintenance, or to at least pay the interest on GARVEE bonding. House members — Republicans and Democrats — have made it equally clear that the votes are not there for that level of taxation during a recession. We approved eliminating the exemption on ethanol and raising some administrative fees within the Division of Motor Vehicles, but most House members have made it crystal clear that they will not support an added fuel tax.

The House Transportation Committee had many lengthy hearings on transportation-funding proposals. We had six votes on the House floor and all were rejected by a majority of the House, including House Democrats.

The Governor invited the people of Idaho to contract legislators about transportation and the people responded overwhelmingly against the gas tax. Our view is we need to respect the will of the people

So, we’re at an impasse. The only way we felt it could be broken was by creating an interim committee to take a broad look at the funding needs and submit recommendations for the 2010 session. There is time for an interim committee to work effectively on this issue. We agree that the issue of road funding needs to be addressed, but with more than $1.1 billion available for roads, the urgency is not immediate.

It’s amazing to see what happens when people calmly work for the common good. A year ago, for instance, who could have imagined that we’d have resolution on the Swan Falls water controversy?

The same kind of magic can occur on transportation if we would just put down our political swords and allow it to happen.

For the moment, it’s time to go home. The people’s work is finished.

Lawrence Denney is Speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives; Mike Moyle is the Majority Leader; Scott Bedke is the Assistant Majority Leader and Ken Roberts is the House Majority Caucus Chairman.

READERS: Were you in charge of this game, what would you say constitutes the people's work?