I have been Director of the Department of Commerce for almost five months now and a resident of the state for about seven years. The Idaho Department of Commerce is responsible for promoting and sustaining the economic vitality of the State of Idaho in four specific areas: Economic development, community development, international business, and travel and tourism.
From a commerce standpoint, the department firmly supports and affirms the testimony given here today for the reauthorization on the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act and for the introduction of the Surface Transportation Authorization and Regulatory Streamlining Act and for increased funding and flexibility and for emphasis on the National Highway System and for fair formulas for the states.
My comments will be brief. There are three areas I would like to address of importance to the state in the matter of commercial aspects and in equality and equity.
The first is the growth of the State in the past decade. The state of Idaho is consistently ranked among the top five states in the increase in the rate of growth. We have also grown four times in the last ten years in the amount of non-ag exports from this state. The number of exporters has grown tenfold, and in the travel and tourism business, as measured by lodging and hotel tax receipts, those have doubled in the last ten years. This indicates the economic vitality of the state. And we expect this to continue.
The second item I would like to mention is it's been well documented together with this growth within the state that the bridge traffic in the state across our highways is also growing a great deal and that ag and manufacturing are growing at increased rates due to NAFTA. And we had some figures that were quoted before about the amount of traffic, particularly coming across the boarder at Bonners Ferry.
Lastly, I would like to emphasize that the state has been very thoughtful and diligent in pursuing remedies for its transportation problems, not relying on Washington, but the state has increased its fuel tax and its registration fees to the point that Idaho residents are paying 50 percent more than the national average in such fees and in the total amount of taxes for the use of the roads in the state of Idaho.
And, lastly, where appropriate we have dealt with the private sector in partnering on transportation issues. However, that gets to be a burden on Idaho business, and we want to be sure that the State of Idaho remains fair and competitive with other states for the businesses that we are trying to attract.
I ask lastly that the panel consider the fact that we want as much flexibility as we can with the ISTEA funds. Intermodal traffic from the standpoint of highway to rail is a very important fact in this state. It has a great deal of potential. In eastern Idaho where I have been for the last six years if someone wanted to load a container or highway trailer on a flatcar, they would have to come 250 miles to Nampa or close to 200 miles to Salt Lake City. I ask that where possible consideration be given to the use of funds that will take some trucks off the highway where it can be fair in the free enterprise system. But, we see that as a way of mitigating some of the damage to the highways.
I would like to thank the panel for coming to Idaho and thank you for asking for my comments.