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For the week of Dec. 22, 1999 through Dec. 28, 1999

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 alarm—Idaho is now the third fastest-growing of the 50 states.

Idaho’s 22 percent growth over 10 years is half of Nevada’s 47 percent and just a hair behind Arizona’s 27 percent.

Idaho’s population surge will puff up the pride of civic boosters who glory in the bigger-is-better ethic.

But bigger isn’t 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 world’s largest gambling center. But quality of life is not an odds-on Las Vegas winner.

As for Arizona, Arizona State University’s 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 that’ve suddenly developed that point to why so many would flee urban life—creep-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 boom.

Research conducted recently in two Idaho counties—Cassia and Canyon—underscore 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 it’s dawning on some residents there’s a limit.

It’s no coincidence that some Wood River Valley residents have formed the Blaine County Citizens for Smart Growth to stand between our area’s 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 life.

With legal muscle now on the public’s 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.

 

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