Monday, February 5, 2007

Local option taxes for mass transit

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.


Julie in Boise said...

Well said, Branden. Thank you for sharing why this is so important.

I understand this issue may come up within days in the House Revenue & Taxation committee - perhaps as early as this Thursday, February 8, or next week. So now would be a good time for people to write the members of the Rev & Tax committee to express support for allowing citizens to vote on funding for transit. You can send an email to all members of the committee here:

People who especially need to hear from us are these respresentatives from the Western Treasure Valley: Gary Collins and Robert Schaefer of Distrist 12 (Nampa) and Rep. Mike Moyle of District 14 (Star and Eagle).

People interested in this issue may want to read more at the Boise Bus Blog:

Alan said...

Our legislators prefer that the federal government leave as much control at the state level, arguing the the local folks know best how to run their affairs. However, they tend not to apply that idea when it comes to giving up state control and allowing communities make decisions for themselves. Logically inconsistent.

Julie in Boise said...

Great point, Alan ... and considering what happened with the community college vote, I'm not holding out much hope for Rev & Tax allowing citizens to vote on whether to have better transit.

What we have here is representation without taxation. I'm sure many people love the sound of that, but the fact is, services cost money - and the Treasure Valley is going to be in sad shape indeed if we can't find the political will to pony up for such basics as better transit and community colleges.