There's still no word when the House Rev & Tax Committee may take up a measure to allow a vote on local option funding for public transit. But the Idaho Statesman has been sounding a steady drumbeat for the issue this week, mostly along the lines of how better transit is a must if we are going to curb worsening air quality.
In an editorial in today's edition, the newspaper implored Gov. Butch Otter to make air quality as much a priority as water supply, and noted that he could hold sway over recalcitrant Canyon County lawmakers who are loathe to pass local-option measures. The Statesman editorial board wrote: "As a former legislator who represented Canyon County in the 1970s, Otter understands the area's constituency. Canyon County voters know Otter and gave their favorite son 61 percent support three months ago. They may not heed air-quality warnings from Ada County officials — but they may give Otter a hearing."
And on Sunday, in an editorial chiding the Rev & Tax panel for its vote against lowering the supermajority for community college districts, the Statesman got in another strong argument for a local-option transit tax:
Don't think for a minute that this desire for control stops at the community college issue. It extends, now as ever, to the Legislature's historic reluctance to reduce the unrealistic two-thirds supermajority for approving school bond issues.
And it could extend, later this session, to the perennial question of local-option taxes.
A local coalition is working on a bill which could allow the Valley to collect a voter-approved sales tax for public transportation. This week, Stark said, the group could have a draft of a bill to take to Rev and Tax Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot.
The details remain in flux — as local-option supporters try to find a magic number.
A bill establishing a simple-majority threshold could be dead on arrival. A 60 percent threshold may be a tough sell, especially considering the community college vote. The committee might go for a two-thirds supermajority. Then again, Stark says he doesn't know of a single state that requires two-thirds support for a local sales tax — and he's not sure a local-option sales tax could garner a two-thirds vote. "That's where our struggle comes in."
And it's the Valley's struggle. As the Valley's population grows toward 2030 projections of 1 million, it's time now to start planning for public transportation systems that relieve gridlock and reduce vehicle exhausts. And it's certainly time to give locally elected leaders the authority to make their pocketbook pitch to voters, and trust an engaged electorate of taxpayers to make a sound decision.
Kudos to the Statesman editorial board for following this issue so closely, and for calling on the Rev & Tax Committee to allow local control on local issues.