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For the week of January 3 through January 9, 2001

Time for transit tax

The Idaho Legislature has never allowed counties to tax themselves to fund public transportation.

When the Legislature convenes next week, the city of Boise and the Association of Idaho Cities will ask the Legislature to pass a bill that will allow residents who are part of a regional transit district to vote to tax themselves to fund public transit.

Itís a concept that has failed before the Legislature five times before.

Itís time that changed.

State Highway 75 in Blaine County may be the most congested highway in the state. Morning, evening and high season daytimes see cars lined up bumper to bumper between Hailey and Ketchum. Itís more than annoying. Itís expensive.

It hurts business and depresses revenue when owners and employees are stuck in traffic and canít get to work.

It hurts tourism by making visitor services unreliable and making highway travel to the area frustrating.

It threatens to turn Ketchum into a parking lot instead of a desirable mountain destination.

It hurts workers whose only option to sky-high north-county housing prices is to commuteóand pay the price. Wood River Rideshare estimates that the annual cost of commuting for a single driver ranges from $1,787 from Hailey to (gasp!) $11,781 from Gooding. So much for the kidsí college funds.

Expanding the highway to five lanes will not solve the problem, and thereís no room in the narrow valley to build a second highway. The only obvious and cost-effective solution is to reduce the number of cars on the road.

A good county-wide transit system, coupled with negative parking incentives in Ketchum, will do that, but it will cost money.

Like a dog protecting its food bowl, the Legislature growls every time it is asked to share the wealth by opening the door to local tax control. Itís a reflex actionóan unnecessary one in this case.

The Republican Legislature should take its cue from the new President-elect George W. Bush, whose campaign motto was "Trust the people."

Legislators should trust citizens to help themselvesóeven if it means allowing them to tax themselves. They should trust the wisdom of citizens to approve or reject a transit tax based on their own commuting experiences.

The majority of Idaho legislators live blissfully free and unaware of transportation hassles. Unlike the Wood River Valley, their communities and the roads leading to them are generally free of serious congestion. The biggest traffic jam many see in a year is when local cattle herds cross a highway when heading home from the high country.

Legislators should acknowledge that all wisdom does not reside in the capitol. They should entrust taxpayers with the authority to tax themselves for transit.


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