Friday, September 7, 2012

A bright spot in the age of gridlock

It’s amazing how the prospect of new money combined with a dash of desperation and a deadline can bring elected officials to the bargaining table—and fast.

After finding out late last spring that a defensible legal means exists to use public funds to bring down the cost of air fares to the Sun Valley area, local cities wasted no time figuring out what to do to put such a program in place to bump up tourism.

Prodded by the Fly Sun Valley Alliance, Sun Valley, Ketchum, Hailey and Blaine County officials built the framework for a group to administer airline subsidies and hammered out ballot language for local sales tax measures to go before voters in November.

This happened in about two months. It sounds simple, but it wasn’t.

Three mayors and 12 city council members had to absorb and evaluate an opinion issued by the Idaho Attorney General’s Office that opened the door to an arrangement that many had believed was barred by the Idaho Constitution.

Moving ahead meant they had to negotiate the makeup of a new joint powers authority and agree on how voting power would be distributed among the cities.

That involved reviewing and word-smithing draft after draft after draft of documents used to formalize the group. The documents required the review of multiple officials and multiple attorneys.

On top of it all, the mayors and council members had to agree to put the question to voters of whether to raise the resort cities’ local-option sales taxes by 1 percent.

Then they had to decide whether to do this in November or to wait until the next available election in May. That sounds easy, but the cities had to weigh how the measure would play relative to other measures that would also be on the ballot.

None of this was business as usual.

Ordinarily, document drafting and negotiating would have gone on for months or years as elected officials engaged in “meeting tag,” similar to the well-known game of phone tag. The speed with which they got it all done was remarkable.

To top it off, this was done by officials who often don’t see eye-to-eye and are quick to criticize the actions of elected officials in cities other than their own.

Whether one loves or hates the idea of using public funds to subsidize airlines in order to increase tourism matters not. It’s encouraging to see that in the right conditions, even people who often disagree can come together to do something important.

Such cooperation is a bright spot in an age of government gridlock and nasty partisan politics. If these city councils can do it, why can’t Congress?

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