Time for transit tax
The Idaho Legislature has never allowed
counties to tax themselves to fund public transportation.
When the Legislature convenes next week,
the city of Boise and the Association of Idaho Cities will ask the
Legislature to pass a bill that will allow residents who are part of a
regional transit district to vote to tax themselves to fund public
Itís a concept that has failed before the
Legislature five times before.
Itís time that changed.
State Highway 75 in Blaine County may be
the most congested highway in the state. Morning, evening and high season
daytimes see cars lined up bumper to bumper between Hailey and Ketchum. Itís
more than annoying. Itís expensive.
It hurts business and depresses revenue
when owners and employees are stuck in traffic and canít get to work.
It hurts tourism by making visitor services
unreliable and making highway travel to the area frustrating.
It threatens to turn Ketchum into a parking
lot instead of a desirable mountain destination.
It hurts workers whose only option to
sky-high north-county housing prices is to commuteóand pay the price.
Wood River Rideshare estimates that the annual cost of commuting for a
single driver ranges from $1,787 from Hailey to (gasp!) $11,781 from
Gooding. So much for the kidsí college funds.
Expanding the highway to five lanes will
not solve the problem, and thereís no room in the narrow valley to build
a second highway. The only obvious and cost-effective solution is to
reduce the number of cars on the road.
A good county-wide transit system, coupled
with negative parking incentives in Ketchum, will do that, but it will
Like a dog protecting its food bowl, the
Legislature growls every time it is asked to share the wealth by opening
the door to local tax control. Itís a reflex actionóan unnecessary one
in this case.
The Republican Legislature should take its
cue from the new President-elect George W. Bush, whose campaign motto was
"Trust the people."
Legislators should trust citizens to help
themselvesóeven if it means allowing them to tax themselves. They should
trust the wisdom of citizens to approve or reject a transit tax based on
their own commuting experiences.
The majority of Idaho legislators live
blissfully free and unaware of transportation hassles. Unlike the Wood
River Valley, their communities and the roads leading to them are
generally free of serious congestion. The biggest traffic jam many see in
a year is when local cattle herds cross a highway when heading home from
the high country.
Legislators should acknowledge that all
wisdom does not reside in the capitol. They should entrust taxpayers with
the authority to tax themselves for transit.