Little calls for more spending on water, roads, rural infrastructure

By Brad Carlson; Capital Press

Idaho Gov. Brad Little will again ask the Legislature to spend substantially on water and road infrastructure, and other work that benefits the agriculture sector and rural communities.

The proposed spending of money available in the short term — from a state budget surplus and federal economic stimulus funds — targets long-term benefits, said Alex Adams, the governor’s budget director.

Water infrastructure exemplifies ongoing needs, he said. Last year’s grant requests to help pay for system improvements easily exceeded the increased money available, and much of the new money to add storage capacity went to a few big projects.

Continuing to make long-range, strategic investments in roads, water and other key areas bodes well for quality of life and reduces burdens on local budgets, Little said in his State of the State and Budget Address to open the 2023 Legislature Jan. 9.

A fast pace of population growth strains infrastructure and local services, he said, and “too often, we are simply shifting burdens across taxpayers when we should be addressing the needs head-on.”

Little’s proposed spending includes $150 million to maintain and expand water projects and in turn help ensure stable supply, and $115 million to support drinking water and wastewater systems with an emphasis on improving rural water quality.

Another $12 million would fund grants to help farmers, ranchers, dairies and confined animal feeding operations pay for environmental improvements.

A recommended $598,500 in ongoing dedicated and federal-fund spending authority would target chronic wasting disease monitoring and surveillance. Dedicated funds are program-specific and paid for by industry.

Little recommends spending $100 million that he said the Department of Parks and Recreation can leverage to expand capacity and enhance accommodations to help keep up with record-high visitation.

Other proposed spending includes $15 million to strengthen energy infrastructure, including for advanced efficiency and system resilience. To improve broadband infrastructure around the state, the governor recommends leveraging $225 million in federal funding, with the Broadband Advisory Board overseeing distribution.

Little’s proposed transportation spending includes $96.8 million for safety-improving upgrades like road widening, guardrail installation, and new signals and turn lanes. He wants the Legislature to approve $200 million for a second tranche of local bridge projects — to improve about one-third of deficient bridges — and set aside $100 million for projects big enough to be out of reach of local government finances.

He targets $10 million for pedestrian and safety projects and $35 million to improve airports.

As of November, the state’s total budget for the July 1 fiscal year was about $12.9 million including federal money and the state General Fund, said Keith Bybee, Legislative Services Office manager of budget and policy analysis. The General Fund portion, from sales and income tax primarily, was $4.7 billion, and as of December had a $607 million surplus — expected to reach $1.3 billion by June 30.

The governor’s state General Fund budget request for fiscal year 2024 is nearly $4.86 billion, Adams said, up 5% from when the Legislature adjourned at the end of March.

Idaho was allocated $1.09 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act, which is part of the total state budget but not the General Fund portion, Bybee said. The state as of Jan. 8 had spent about $190 million if this money, which must be allocated by December 2024 and spent by December 2026.

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