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Idaho's Biggest Pothole

Voters think Idaho needs to pour a lot more attention on roads..Funding? Not so much.

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Reforming Social Security or immigration are the third rails of national politics--touch them at the peril of kissing your political life goodbye. But in Idaho, finding appropriate funding to fix and maintain our roads and bridges has been the pothole that has ensnared Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and a number of his colleagues. Work groups, committees and subcommittees have come and gone in spite of repeated warnings that Idaho's thoroughfares are adequate at best and sometimes dangerous.

Any new sources of revenues to shore up highways and bridges aren't on the horizon--the last bump in state fuel tax was back in 1996. And voters apparently aren't in any hurry to revisit those fuel taxes. In a just-published study from the University of Idaho's McClure Center for Public Policy Research, a fuel tax increase is way down the list when voters were asked about their level of support for various ways of funding.

The survey, released July 8, found that likely voters generally see Idaho's roads and bridges as adequate (less so in North-Central Idaho). But 10 years from now? Not so much. The results varied by where people lived. For example, Idaho Transportation Department Highway District No. 2, which includes Clearwater, Idaho, Latah, Lewis and Nez Perce counties, gave lower ratings to highways, bridges and city streets. Not surprisingly, those in rural counties throughout the state gave lower ratings to the roads. Men and women also varied in their opinions: Female voters were less likely to view roads and bridges as completely adequate both now and 10 years from now. Almost all of the likely voters made a connection between Idaho's economy and its infrastructure.

As for how Idaho will foot the bill to fix its transportation infrastructure, when asked about revenue sources, the majority of likely voters said the state's current system of collecting sales tax on automotive parts and tires was their first choice, followed closely by a possible increase in registration fees for commercial vehicles. When asked if they would support a bump in passenger car registration fees, support began to drop significantly. An increase of fuel or sales taxes found very little support. And don't expect Idaho to establish toll roads anytime soon. Only 6 percent of likely voters strongly supported the concept.

This week's survey clearly establishes Idaho's dilemma: growing concern for the safety and integrity of our roads and bridges, yet voters' support is primarily reserved for sources that will generate inadequate funding.

Good luck with that, 2015 Idaho Legislature.