There’s an old saying in politics: “Don’t tax me, don’t tax thee, tax that fella behind the tree.”
Seems that’s what Idahoans feel about raising new funds for Idaho’s roads.
The general session of the Idaho Legislature convenes today, and a new public opinion poll by Idaho Politics Weekly finds that voters want increased revenues for the state’s crumbling roads and bridges.
But voters oppose raising the state gasoline tax and oppose increasing car and pick-up truck registration fees – the traditional sources of road funds.
They support, however, increasing fees on commercial trucks – in this case that “fella behind the tree” – since most Idaho residents don’t pay commercial truck registration fees directly.
When pollster Dan Jones & Associates asked 520 Idaho registered voters in a recent survey (margin of error plus or minus 4.3 %) if funding for Idaho roads should be increased, 79 percent said they would support such an increase.
Like other states, Idaho’s roads are falling behind in maintenance and replacement. Idaho road bridges are aging and many are in need of repair or replacement.
But when Jones asked if the gasoline tax should be increased to pay for these needs, 55 percent said they would “strongly” or “somewhat” oppose such a tax hike.
Forty-four percent said they would support such a tax hike.
When Jones asked if car and pick-up truck registration fees, also a source of road funding, should be increased, again, 57 percent said they would oppose such an increase, 41 percent said yes.
Only when asked if commercial truck fees should be raised are Idaho voters in favor – 84-12 percent.
Like other western states, Idaho gets most of its transportation funds from a per gallon tax on gasoline (the state taxes other fuels as well, but by far most vehicles run on gasoline).
But the 25-cent per-gallon tax has not been raised since 1996.
And while last year the state collected $245 million in motor fuel taxes, $3 million more than the year before, over time the per-gallon tax has not kept up with inflation on road construction and repair.
One group, Better Roads for Idaho, says that there is a $262 million shortfall in road funding.
But while Idahoans agree there is a real need for more road funding, they just don’t want to pay for it themselves, the new poll shows.
Now, the Legislature is overwhelmingly Republican.
And Jones finds that GOP voters really, really don’t want to raise the gasoline tax or car and pick-up truck fees.
Republicans rank-and-file are against raising the per-gallon gasoline tax 63-36 percent.
Democrats actually favor raising the gas tax 62-37 percent.
Political independents are mixed, 46 percent support a gas tax hike while 53 percent oppose.
Vehicle registration fee hikes increases are similarly disliked:
-- Sixty-three percent of Republicans say no. Only 34 percent favor such a registration increase.
-- While Democrats like a gas tax hike, they are mixed on raising vehicle registration fees – 48 percent favor, 48 percent oppose.
-- Independents feel basically the same, 52 percent oppose, 47 percent favor such an increase.
Now, when asked if commercial truck fees should go up, the partisan breakout is clear: 83 percent of Republicans say yes, 93 percent of Democrats and 84 percent of political independents favor that.
However, it is also clear that the state can’t raise commercial truck registrations enough to get the extra $262 million some believe is needed for Idaho roads.
That would take some kind of broad-based tax, like the motor fuels tax.