Eminent domain bill printed

The Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee will consider Senate Bill 1044 sponsored by Sen. Jim Guthrie (R-McCammon), that  would prohibit cities and counties from using  eminent domain to acquire property “for trails, paths, greenways or other ways for walking, running, hiking, bicycling or equestrian use, unless adjacent to a highway, road or street.” The hearing date has not been set. Similar legislation was narrowly defeated in the Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee in 2013, but the makeup of the committee has changed.

The legislation attempts to address a local issue with a state solution. Some Bannock County residents suggested the city of Pocatello use of eminent domain for small disconnected segments of the Portneuf Greenway.  The city of Pocatello has been clear and consistent in refusing to pursue eminent domain and continues to work toward negotiated agreements with the property owners.

In the 2013, Sen. Guthrie characterized bicycle and pedestrian facilities as nice recreational amenities…not essential transportation infrastructure such as roads. ISG knows that walking and biking are essential transportation for some Idahoans.  These routes are used by children going to school and many who commute by bike. Often a pathway that is not adjacent to a roadway is a much safer and more direct route for users.

Eminent domain has been used sparingly around the state with the exception of roadways. Boise used it once in the early stages of developing the Boise River Greenbelt, without that action city believes that the greenbelt would not have succeeded in becoming the essential asset it is today – the Boise greenbelt is conservatively estimated to carry 65,000 trips per year, many of them commute trips. This and other greenbelts are key to Idaho’s economic vitality, and are amenities that help attract businesses and new economic activity to our communities.

Only two other examples of use for pathways have been found: in Garden City a homeowner’s association requested the city to condemn property needed for a greenbelt bridge across the Boise River to avoid their restrictive covenants on the disposal of commonly owned property; and the city of Eagle filed an eminent domain action in 2014 for a path next to the Laguna Point subdivision, but was able to settle with the property owners instead.

Preserving this important tool requires that local governments pay fair market value for any property that serves an important public purpose and protects the public from individuals who would attempt to extract excessive compensation.

Members of the Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee are listed below. Please contact them with comments.

Chair: Sen. Jeff Siddoway, Terreton, jsiddoway@senate.idaho.gov

Vice Chair: Sen. Dan Johnson, Lewiston, djohnson@senate.idaho.gov

Sen. Curt McKenzie, Nampa, cmckenzie@senate.idaho.gov

Sen. Jim Rice, Caldwell, jrice@senate.idaho.gov

Sen. Steve Vick, Dalton Gardens, sjvick@senate.idaho.gov

Sen. Clifford Bayer, Boise, cbayer@senate.idaho.gov

Sen. Jim Guthrie, McCammon, jguthrie@senate.idaho.gov

Sen. Elliot Werk, Boise, ewerk@senate.idaho.gov

Sen. Grant Burgoyne, Boise, gburgoyne@senate.idaho.gov




What kind of transportation funding, why now

1996 was the last time Idaho raised the gas tax for roads and bridges. Since that time revenue has decreased because of more fuel efficient vehicles and a historic shift toward fewer miles driven. As a result there is a shortfall in revenue for identified needs and there has been an effort to increase funding for transportation, especially since 2008. As Idaho has discussed raising general transportation revenue Idahoans for Transportation Choices has been active in reminding Idaho decision makers of the importance of transportation choices.

During and after the 2014 legislative session the transportation committees in the legislature heard briefings on the current state of funding, road conditions and needs and one on Public Transportation and pedestrian and bike needs. Idaho remains one of only three states that doesn’t provide any funding for public transportation from the state and that doesn’t allow local governments to raise their own revenue with a local option tax. In addition, spending on walking and biking infrastructure is comparatively low based on the trips taken by foot, bike and transit.

The sentiment is strong that preserving our existing system is the highest priority and that an increase of $150-$175 million annually is the minimum necessary to meet that need. There are no specific bills on the table yet; momentum has been building over the last month to “do something.” That momentum appears to include some funding for the growing need to address public transportation and walk/bike facilities – the question remains as to how much should be allocated for those needs.

The Task Force on Modernizing Transportation Funding appointed by Gov. Otter in 2009-2010 created a list of options for how to fund the identified shortfall. Those most likely to be considered are:

Increase State Fuel Tax Rates – Idaho’s fuel tax has been 25 cents per gallon since 1996. Idaho’s tax is 12¢/ gallon lower than Washington, Montana and Nevada, about equal to Utah and Oregon and 10¢/gallon higher than Wyoming.

Fuel taxes are Idaho’s largest source of transportation funding comprising more than 65 percent of Highway Distribution Account revenue – a portion of which goes to cities and highway districts. Every penny increase in the tax will bring approximately $8.2 million annually, a 10¢ increase would bring in $82 million. Many feel this should be accompanied by a fee/tax increase for alternative fuel vehicles and trucks for fairness.

Index State Fuel Tax Rates – States that index fuel tax rates protect the purchasing power of their fuel taxes from inflation.

Increase Vehicle Registration Fees – Registration fees range up from $24 annually and have not been increased since 1996. Other options include levying registration based on the vehicle weight and value. There is sentiment that trucks are not paying their fair share and there is likely to be an increase in commercial truck rates as well.

Other – Small amounts could be raised with an increase to the transfer fee that protects clean water, an increased dedicated sales tax on items specific to motor vehicles such as tires, auto sales, parts and accessories and an additional rental car fee.

Local Option Sales Taxes

There is a growing movement for broad local option sales tax authority for Idaho cities and counties allowing local citizens a voice in generating revenue for transportation, economic development and other community needs as they determine are priorities in their locale. Questions remain about the amount that might be raised, how to divvy it up among cities and counties, and what voter percentage should be required.

Vehicle Miles Traveled Fee – This is a method of raising revenue that states may pursue in the future for transportation funding. It addresses growing fuel efficiency and alternative fuel vehicles but it looks unlikely to gain support in Idaho in the short term due to privacy concerns and complexities of introducing a new tax collection system.

Public Transportation Subcommittee

The Task Force formed a subcommittee to address public transportation funding needs. They identified few options for raising funds for public transportation. The most promising are:

  1. Enable Local Option Sales Tax: Idaho law allows the imposition of a sales tax on certain goods and services on a local option basis only in resort communities. Currently, the state imposes a general sales tax of 6% (subject to a variety of exemptions). This option would allow, on a city or county basis, the imposition of an additional sales tax for the purpose of a regional mobility network. (see local option above)
  2. Increase Local Option Real Property Taxes: Allow Regional Public Transportation Authorities (RPTAs), to levy property taxes or to be added to the property taxes levied by cities and counties within their boundaries. However, property taxes are perhaps the most hated tax and raising them for public transportation is not palatable in many areas of the state.
  3. Impact Fees: Rewrite the code to make it less complicated and to allow use for transit capital improvements related to new construction/impacts brought by growth.