The Idaho House Revenue & Taxation Committee on Tuesday voted to print a bill that would allow local communities to ask voters for funds to greatly improve public transit.
This is an important first step toward helping the Treasure Valley get a 21st century transit system, attract economic development, improve our quality of life, and avoid federal penalties for air quality "non attainment." If the bill runs the remaining gauntlets, it would allow Ada and Canyon county (along with other localities in recognized transportation districts) to ask voters whether to adopt a local option sales tax of up to one-half cent. In the Treasure Valley, such funding would mean much more frequent bus service with longer hours; expanded routes to outlying communities; and funding to preserve rail corridor for possible future light rail. (Read more here.)
The bill will now move on to a regular hearing by the committee, although today's print hearing was quite extensive. Rep. Leon Smith (R-Twin Falls) moved that the bill be printed, noting, "I don't think anyone denies the need for public transportation in the Treasure Valley," and adding that the Coalition for Regional Public Transportation - including more than 40 area legislators, officials, and business leaders - did "a tremendous job" of setting out its case.
Rep. Ken A. Roberts (R-Donnelly) countered with a motion to return the proposed bill, suggesting that instead of a sales tax, proponents ought to pursue a head tax on Ada and Canyon county residents who would benefit most from better transit. "Let the people pay for it that cause the problem," he said. "Bring the bill that has it based on a head tax, and I'll help get it through."
In the end, Roberts' motion to return the proposed bill failed by two votes. Smith's motion to print was approved 11-6, with six Republicans (Treasure Valley reps Gary Collins, Mike Moyle, and Robert Schaefer plus Leon Smith, Dell Raybould, and R.J. Harwood) joining all five Democrats (George Sayler, Wendy Jaquet, Nicole LeFavour, Bill Killen, and James Ruchti) in assent.
The bill still faces daunting odds in its committee hearing - and even if the legislature approves the local option taxing authority, a sales tax would need a two-thirds supermajority to pass. It may still be a very long time before the Treasure Valley gets a decent transit system, but today's action was an important first step in that direction.