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Posted: Aug 24, 2009  16:03

Recreation Gas Tax Will Need Legislative Fix


Boise - Idaho recreationists are insisting state legislators restore the gas tax fund taken in the 2009 legislative session to fix highways. Legislators also set up a task force to report on how these funds could be replaced

The task force began meeting earlier this summer on how to accomplish this.
The gas tax fund now supports Idaho's outdoor recreational vehicle programs. These receipts have provided about $32 million for Idaho recreationists over the past ten years.

Three percent of Idaho's gas tax has flowed to Idaho's recreational vehicle programs since 1963, funding millions of dollars of trail improvements, boat docks and ramps, rescue efforts, state park roads and parking lot enhancements. Since off-road recreation vehicles, such as off -highway vehicles and boats, do not use the road system, it made sense to use gas tax moneys for off road purposes. The alternative was to refund the money in the same manner we do for farmers, construction and logging.

Tens of thousands of Idaho's recreationists have benefited from the improvements. Every county in the state benefited from the tourism dollars it generated, an industry estimated at more than $3 billion annually. There are more than 260,000 registered off-road vehicles and clubs are common in every corner of the state, including boaters, snowmobilers, off-road riders and equine groups.

In order to end the divisive 2009 legislative session, legislators diverted the off-road gas tax money to the Idaho Transportation Department for roads, with a provision for a task force to come up with alternative dedicated funding sources. But the difficulty of how to do that was evident earlier this summer when, at its first meeting, a special legislative committee could not find a readily available source.

"If they fail to find an alternative funding source the money will have to come from the general fund," said Sandra Mitchell, Idaho Recreational Council (IRC) executive director. "Recreation will have to compete with education, prisons, highways and others for dollars that never seem to be enough. Good luck at pulling that rabbit out of the hat!"

Mitchell said recreationists are proud that "we pay our own way," and part of that is through the gas tax fund. "We believe it is a fair and equitable use of fuel tax that's burned off-road." Karen Crosby of the IRC also noted that the gas tax funds provide matching money for grants for trails across the state. Loss of this money would endanger those programs as well.

Finding a replacement source of funds for parks and recreational use will not be easy, said Mitchell. "No matter how you look at it, alternative sources of funding will be a tax on someone," she said. "If you enjoy our state parks, launch your boat on one of our beautiful lakes or ride your off-highway vehicle in the backcountry or take a hike on trails, it is time to contact your legislators and let them know the diversion of our gas tax is unacceptable."

For further information contact Sandra Mitchell, Idaho Recreation Council at Box 70001, Boise, Idaho 83707 or call 208-424-3870.


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