Wednesday, April 2, 2008

State lawmakers bungle chances to serve public needs

The Idaho Legislature is once again in the last week of its annual lawmaking session, and once again lawmakers have left a yawning gap in the agenda of genuine public needs.

Unhappily, some of the legislative indifference will have grave consequences in one form or another throughout the state. And Wood River Valley residents should take notice—these failures in the halls of the Capitol 160 miles away will ripple out and have their effects in Blaine County just as surely.

Partly out of pique with Gov. Butch Otter and his sniping criticisms of the lack of "will" of lawmakers, their inaction means another year will pass without proper funding for improving and repairing Idaho roads. Without passing the governor's request for $200 million in added funds, state roads will deteriorate even further, and inevitably ratchet up the costs of repairs when legislators get around to understanding the problem and funding remedies.

Other failures hit home in the Wood River Valley as hard.

Authorization of a local option tax for transit programs died in the Senate. Instead of working on a straightforward local option tax law, opponents drew up a proposed constitutional amendment that was a poison pill. Sure enough, the chaos growing out of the dispute of how to enact a tax guaranteed that legislators would throw up their hands and drop the idea.

Perhaps the worst news for fast-growth areas such as Blaine County was defeat of real estate price disclosure legislation requiring prices of all property transactions to be reported to the county tax assessor. This would have armed assessors with more accurate information on the changing economics of real estate sales in neighborhoods and led to fairer property valuations. Now it's back to guesstimates, which result in unfairness to homeowners who can least afford them.

The shame of legislative negligence is compounded by the lawmakers' willingness to fritter away their time on bills with limited, if any, value to the public.

For example, after debating whether to give businesses $120 million in tax breaks on personal property, legislators produced the proverbial mouse after so many wasted hours—$15 million.

And finally, into the hopper was tossed this dandy—legislation allowing real estate developers to form their own taxing districts to build roads, bridges and sewers for their subdivisions.

Who in proper possession of their faculties would cede the power to tax to private parties in order to fund roads, water and sewer in new subdivisions?

But then, we're talking about Idaho legislators.

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