The House Rev & Tax Committee began hearing House Bill 246 this morning, but since a greater-than-expected number of people signed up to testify, the hearing will continue at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Room 404. Presumably, the panel will also vote Wednesday on whether or not to send the legislation to the full House.
About three-quarters of the people who testified Tuesday favored the bill. The major exceptions were three representatives from the National Federation of Independent Business, who complained that a local option tax for transit would put small businesses at a competitive disadvantage and prove onerous for businesses to collect and report. Rep. Nicole LeFavour noted, however, that a local option tax would be collected and administered by the state tax commission.
Other speakers in opposition included one man who said he ran the city bus system a quarter-century ago (when it did just fine for ridership, he said) and another whose long and rambling testimony seemed to center on his assertion that local air quality isn't as bad as everyone thinks. Fortunately, the panel was able to accommodate the folks who came from out of town to testify, as well as several visually impaired transit users who made the trip to the statehouse.
Here are a few comments from those who spoke in favor of the bill:
Bill sponsor Roy Eiguren reiterated that Boise State University found that 85 percent of people surveyed this winter believe that the state should allow transit expansion via local option taxes. He challenged the committee that if it decides not to allow this bill to go to the full House, "we would implore you" to suggest another acceptable means of funding transit.
Chuck Winder, co-chair of the Coalition for Regional Public Transportation, noted that many opponents point to empty seats on the buses as reason to oppose enhanced transit. But he noted that most passenger cars and trucks have empty seats, too, and that the Treasure Valley needs to move beyond the Old West mentality that demands a horse - or vehicle - for every person.
Coalition co-chair Mayor Garret Nancolas of Caldwell reminded legislators that no one is asking them to approve a tax, but simply to authorize the mechanism by which local citizens can decide for themselves whether to better fund public transit. He also noted that commuter service between Caldwell and Ada County is already running above capacity.
Boise Mayor Dave Bieter remarked how, since Salt Lake City implemented its light rail system,
demand has been far beyond what anyone expected. He also noted that a Boise-based manufacturer of commuter locomotives, MotivePower, has seen its employment more than double in recent years due to national demand for its products.
Several speakers noted how more people would use Valley Ride if it had better hours and more frequent service. Boise resident Kevin Bayhouse said it best when he noted that most people won't use transit systems that are perceived as incomplete, and that people deserve a chance to vote on a transit system that can "compete with their cars."
Stay tuned ...
Update: Idaho Statesman opinion page editor Kevin Richert writes in his blog, "Testimony ran in favor of the bill by a 14-5 count. My guess: The committee vote Wednesday will be a lot closer."