Careful Idaho -- bigger isn't better
Commentary By PAT MURPHY
The alarm that other states ignored just sounded for Idaho.
Will anyone hear it and heed it?
The alarmIdaho is now the third fastest-growing of the 50
Idahos 22 percent growth over 10 years is half of
Nevadas 47 percent and just a hair behind Arizonas 27 percent.
Idahos population surge will puff up the pride of civic
boosters who glory in the bigger-is-better ethic.
But bigger isnt better. As more people crush onto less
space, and the demand for public services soar, the more the loss in the quality of life.
Las Vegas is a paradise for habitues of garish night life and a
tribute to the incurable devotion of losers to continue building the worlds largest
gambling center. But quality of life is not an odds-on Las Vegas winner.
As for Arizona, Arizona State Universitys Morrison Institute
for Public Policy and The Arizona Republic find in a new study that 45 percent of the
1,020 adults surveyed said they would leave Phoenix immediately if they could.
As one who worked in Phoenix for more than 25 years, I can testify
to indicators thatve suddenly developed that point to why so many would flee urban
lifecreep-and-crawl speeds on traffic-choked freeways, crime, drugs, air pollution
and increased respiratory diseases, toxic chemicals in drinking water, political antipathy
toward education and social services, destruction of the famed desert north of Scottsdale
to make way for strip malls and tacky housing.
Growth may be good business for real estate developers, lending
institutions and retailers, but not necessarily for governments dealing with a population
Research conducted recently in two Idaho countiesCassia and
Canyonunderscore the point.
Residential areas in Cassia County generated a total of $30.9
million in taxes in 1995. But homeowners required $36.7 million in municipal and county
services, while residences in Canyon County produced $125.4 million in revenues, but
required $135.5 million in public services.
Put another way, Cassia County residences received $1.19 in
services for every $1 in taxes paid, and $1.08 in services in Canyon County for every $1
in taxes. The shortfall had to be made up in taxes levied on other properties that
received less public services, such as agriculture and commercial.
With Idaho in the fast-growth league, and vulnerable to mindless
growth, maybe its dawning on some residents theres a limit.
Its no coincidence that some Wood River Valley residents
have formed the Blaine County Citizens for Smart Growth to stand between our areas
special grandeur and the insatiable hunger of developers.
The new group has associated itself with The Law Fund, a
Colorado-based organization that uses lawsuits to fight growth that spoils the quality of
With legal muscle now on the publics side, perhaps
politicians who rubberstamp plans that erode the character and quality of life for the
sake of bigness will now have second thoughts or be compelled to fight in court to give
developers their way.
Pat Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic
and a former radio commentator.