As the Treasure Valley continues to grow the infrastructure must do the same in order to avoid significant expense in the future. To reduce these long term costs, I personally support allowing local governments to ask voters to tax themselves for certain projects, in this case specifically transportation solutions. This concept is referred to as local option taxes and widely used throughout the United States. Giving local governments more control seems to be no-brainer in a state like Idaho, but not in the case of tax policy. In fact, Idaho is one of the most restrictive states upon local governments in the country when it comes to tax policy. I believe in the people, and thus, if they are willing enter in to an agreement to tax themselves, I say so be it. I truly believe that people in the local area know best in many cases, especially when it comes to transportation.
But why local option taxes now? First, there is vicious storm on the horizon and if we don't act now the citizens of the Treasure Valley will lose out in a major way. This storm is the worsening air quality that will inevitably lead the Treasure Valley to falling into something known as non-attainment. To be brief, non-attainment is condition assessed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when a community's air shed reaches substandard levels for a period of three years. Once this happens, the EPA is required to force the offending community to make a plan to fix the problem and get back to attainment status. This is a costly venture and can cause significant negative economic impacts. Not good. Increased access to mass transit, which can help be made possible by local option taxes, will take cars off the road resulting in better air quality.
The second reason I believe the Legislature needs to approve local option taxes ASAP is the long-term nature of capital improvement projects like mass transit. In other words, if we want to have a functioning mass transit system in 2015 we need to start planning and funding it right away. If we are content to plan for today's needs, we will always be a decade behind (have you driven on Eagle Road recently?). It is decisions where the payoff is in the distant future that are always the most difficult for elected officials, but that doesn't make it unworthy of our attention. In fact, I would contend it makes equally if not more necessary. Leaders have to have vision and this is a prime example as to why.
I won't go in to my personal views as to what mass transit system should look like at this point, but I will make sure to do so at some point in the future. I hope this is a compelling argument, but if not, let me know why. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.