I guess all it took was a record-setting winter to convince our state lawmakers that maybe they needed to dig a bit deeper into the state's "wallet" to find some money. With Idaho still reeling from all the snow and subsequent flooding, it was obvious they needed to do something — anything — to fix all the damage these roads and bridges have suffered.
Of course, the legislature might have dodged this proverbial "bullet" had they bothered to think ahead.
Two years ago, the state's transportation department said it needed $262 million to fix our deteriorating infrastructure. What we ended up with was a $95 million budget pushed forward at the last minute that was nowhere close to what was needed.
It was essentially a "band aid" fix with our lawmakers seemingly choosing to punt the problem down the road.
As I've mentioned in previous years, the transportation budget shortfall isn't something that suddenly happened. It's been a subject of debate since 2010 when a task force unveiled this multimillion dollar budgetary shortfall.
However, it seems that the legislature is finally jumping on the bandwagon. The $320 million proposal introduced last week represents a great start to ensuring our highways and bridges are safe for drivers to use.
This issue hits a bit close to home for me. When I was a teenager, I read a story in my hometown newspaper about a driver who was crushed to death after a piece of concrete from a freeway overpass came loose and crushed their car as it passed by.
To this day, I still worry (just a little) that something similar could happen each time I drive under a bridge.
Granted, the transportation budget that narrowly passed in the Idaho Senate that passed by a wider margin in the House wasn't without its critics. Among them was Representative Ron Nate from Rexburg, who seemed very hesitant about using bonds to pay for these urgently needed repairs to this infrastructure.
In his own words, you're not being "fiscally conservative" if you need to rely on bonds in the state's budget. Excuse me, but I'd rather take out a loan to ensure my family and I can safely make the trek from Mountain Home to other cities in Idaho versus falling back on political platitudes.
But in the matter of fairness, others like Representative Joe Palmer, who chairs the House Transportation and Defense Committee, understood all too well the importance of giving the state transportation department what it desperately needs. The lawmaker from Meridian said it best when he emphasized that, "this is something we need to do."
At the same time, our lawmakers made another decision that should provide a tremendous amount of help for many people in this state. With the legislative session starting to wind down last month, they moved to repeal the state's grocery tax.
While the governor had urged state lawmakers to leave the grocery sales tax alone, he hadn't threatened to veto the bill, either. As of press time, the fate of that bill was still in limbo.
Eliminating this tax isn't some new, novel concept. Across this nation, 37 states have already eliminated it as a way to help struggling families make ends meet.
Many of us in Mountain Home, Glenns Ferry and surrounding communities know all too well how much of a pinch this tax has affected us. With so many families living from paycheck to paycheck, those extra dollars saved at the cash register will mean they can put a few more groceries in their cart to ensure they don't go hungry.
I would wage those that those opposed to eliminating this tax don't understand how it impacts low-income families. For someone financially well off, saving $6 on a $100 purchase doesn't seem like a big deal. However, those few extra dollars means a family on the financial edge can afford to buy and extra gallon of milk, another loaf of bread and maybe a small jar of peanut butter.
When I went to school, I lived off peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because that was all my parents could afford. While I grew tired of eating the exact same thing in the school lunchroom every day, at least I never went hungry.
Of course, doing away with this sales tax means the state now needs to find a way to make up for this shortfall in the state's coffers. Maybe they could've done that a few years back when they started messing with the state's personal property tax system, which gave big businesses, ranchers and farmers a huge tax break, but it came with major consequences.
Cities, counties and school districts took it in the teeth. In Mountain Home, our local school district ended up having to continue relying on supplemental levies just to maintain day-to-day operations.
Of course, it would've helped the school district if they were able to depend on the federal government to uphold its obligations. By that, I'm referring to the millions of dollars in federal impact aid that we're supposed to receive from Capitol Hill each year.
The amount the school district receives in those federal funds is based on the number of children whose families don't pay local taxes because their parents work at Mountain Home Air Force Base or hold other federal jobs in the local area.
From what I'm hearing, our federal lawmakers are currently three years behind on those payments, which makes it extremely tough for the school district to balance out its "checkbook." If you or I were that far behind on paying our bills, I'm sure we'd end up getting our wages garnished to pay off our debts.
I just wish there was a surefire way to do something similar to our lawmakers when they don't pay off theirs.
— Brian S. Orban