Tensions rise, session drags on as lawmakers seek solution for transportation shortfall

Idaho lawmakers remain hopeful they can find a viable solution to address the state's transportation funding shortfall despite multiple failed proposals. But as the session drags on, tensions are rising over what they can actually get done.

The Legislature already is two weeks past its original estimated adjournment date, and no one is ready yet to say when lawmakers will be able to pack up and go home.

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"We've got a couple of issues hanging fire, and transportation is the big one and I would even say the going-home bill," Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter told reporters Thursday.

A governor's task force revealed the $262 million annual shortfall for road maintenance in 2010.

House leaders are advocating for an aggressive tax cut to pair with a transportation funding backfill measure. But Senate lawmakers rejected the House's three-part tax plan this week. Instead, they are in the middle of amending a much simpler bill focused solely on creating new transportation revenue.

This has resulted in a standoff between the two chambers. Lawmakers took the day off Friday to regroup.

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, has said the House will not send any more transportation bills, noting the ball is in the Senate's court.

Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, countered that while everyone agrees Idaho needs more transportation money, pairing that with a massive tax cut might be unpalatable in the Senate.

Meanwhile, with lawmakers staying in Boise for perhaps one more week, the Legislature will have enough time to override a possible veto on the contentious bill to repeal lucrative slot-like machines in Idaho, known as instant horse racing terminals.

Lawmakers passed the repeal bill this month with a two-thirds majority — required to override a governor's veto.

Otter says he has until 5:45 p.m. Saturday to make a decision on the measure. As of Friday afternoon, he was still meeting with stakeholders on both sides of the issue.