We've been looking into the issue of Pocatello paving other city roads. After speaking with Mayor Hyrum Johnson of Driggs, he said instead of people focusing on what happened, he said everyone should focus on why.
Johnson said cities are having problems fixing roads and maintaining infrastructure because the Idaho State Legislature is not taking action to fix a problem almost 20 years in the making.
For every gallon of gas you pump, 25 cents goes to a state tax on fuel. That money is supposed to maintain Idaho's roads. But according to David Swindell, Pocatello's chief financial officer, it's not enough anymore.
Simply put? A quarter doesn't buy what it used to. Swindell said Pocatello's street fund used to be two-thirds gas-tax fee, one-third property taxes and grants.
"Now it's completely flipped on its head,” Swindell said. “Local resources from our local property tax or property tax equivalents are now paying two-thirds of the cost of maintaining our roads."
In fact, out of five main cities in Idaho, Pocatello has the least amount of money needed, and that's just under $1 million. Idaho Falls is there as well, and Boise is short almost $3.5 million.
Swindell said we would need to pay about 7 or 8 cents more per gallon to take proper care of our roads, and that's a decision the Legislature needs to make.
Swindell said the Legislature makes decisions based on what they hear from constituents, and what they hear is nobody wants to spend more money. But Sen. Roy Lacey said the time is coming to pay the piper.
He said increasing the gas tax is one way to fix the problem, but other options include increasing vehicle registration fees or adding tolls to certain roads. Lacey said Idaho is becoming a welfare state, with the only money funding our roads coming from the federal government. He said that money is never a guarantee.
Looking statewide, 198 cities receive funds from the gas tax, and every single one of them doesn't have enough to properly maintain their roads.
"So right now we're letting the other states help pay for it,” Lacey said. “At some point, even in your house, you have to do maintenance. If you don't do maintenance, someday it's going to cost you a lot of money."
Both Swindell and Lacey said it's a situation of pay now, or pay a lot more later. Swindell said some cities, including Pocatello, decided early on to just ignore road maintenance. He said that's why potholes were so bad in the city years ago. He said now the city is getting back to maintenance because of increased property taxes.
Lacey and Swindell said the last push for more money to go to roads was in 2008 by Gov. Butch Otter. Lacey said since that time, Otter has put less pressure on the House and Senate, and also said it hasn't been brought up any time there's an election year.
Swindell said it's frustrating to see the inaction as our infrastructure crumbles, and said it basically comes down to a simple explanation. Everybody in Pocatello pays for the Marshall Public Library, even if they don't use it. The same goes for the police and fire departments.
But when it comes to roads, everybody needs solid infrastructure. And that could have far-reaching consequences, not just in significantly increased cost of restructuring, but even down to car repairs needed after hitting those bumps in the road.
Swindell said it seems like many folks have simply buried their head in the sand – in this case, a pothole – to ignore a critical reason for taking action now.
"In the end we have to be able to properly maintain our roads and convey them to our children. Because it's our responsibility to maintain this marvelous transportation infrastructure for which we all depend."