Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Governor offers poison-pill plan for local option taxes

Only the naïve will be taken in by Gov. Butch Otter's proposal that local option taxes to finance local transit services should be provided in an amendment to the Idaho Constitution.

The governor's remedy is nothing but a prescription for a poison pill.

Why is it so difficult for the Legislature to authorize counties or cities with special transit needs to impose special local option taxes? House members had no problem whisking through a bill 51-17 to give motion picture firms tax breaks if they film in Idaho and spend $200,000. Lawmakers also are jazzed up about offering millions of dollars in tax breaks to a French company if it builds a uranium enrichment plant in eastern Idaho.

But local option taxes? The Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Otter know only how to create obstacles or say "No!"

Tinkering with the state Constitution and adding essentially narrow-interest amendments is trivializing the state charter. Republicans in Washington have been trying to load the U.S. Constitution for years with special-interest amendments involving guns, taxes, the gold standard, flag abuse and heaven knows what else.

Assuming a constitutional amendment requires a statewide vote, sure as the sun rises in the east lawmakers in smaller counties would be telling voters to vote against the amendment with warnings that local option taxes could spread like toxic weeds.

Special interests that would be taxed could be expected to mount well-funded opposition campaigns, which the consummate politician Butch Otter knows full well.

The Wood River Valley is a laboratory example of why funds are needed to develop a comprehensive transit system. Its only major north-south thoroughfare for commuters can accommodate only so many more vehicles, even when state Highway 75 is widened and improved.

Eventually, with a larger population and the probability of a distant new airport with its own growth in workers and passengers, transit would become the economic lifeblood of the valley.

However, even the current, combined resources and tax streams of the valley's cities and county are vastly insufficient for financing a system that truly is efficient and forward-looking.

Few of Idaho's state legislators seem to look to the future needs of the state and the necessity of planning and building facilities and systems that provide for a larger population. This imprudent inability or unwillingness to show vision, and the reflexive opposition to investing in tomorrow, is an Idaho trait that will be far more expensive to remedy in years ahead when the urgency to catch up overcomes a new generation of politicians.

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