Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Local Needs Call for Local Solutions

My oldest daughter wants a new iPod. My youngest wants an autographed soccer jersey. Each girl is unique in her needs and wants, but the answer to both is the same: “If you want ‘X,’ you need to buy it yourself, which means you need to find a way to pay for it.”

Each girl will need to decide if what she wants is worth the effort, and if so, how she will come up with the money to achieve her goal. One daughter may decide to take on extra babysitting jobs; the other may choose to set up a lemonade stand. The point is, it is each girl’s decision and my wife and I have given them both the tools and support they need to make their own decision and reach their goals by themselves.  

If we can trust our daughters to develop their own unique “solutions” to their own unique needs, why can’t our legislature trust Idaho citizens to do the same?

I’m talking about the need for the Idaho legislature to grant authority to local agencies to add local option sales tax as a tool to help meet local needs.

What is local option sales tax authority and how does it work? A taxing district, such as a county or city, presents a local sales tax proposal, along with a description of the project the revenue would be used for, to the voters. The voters then decide if they wanted to tax themselves for that project. If the proposal passes, the tax is instituted and the project proceeds. If the proposal fails, no new tax is instituted and the project does not proceed – or at least goes back to the drawing board.

But, outside of a few resort communities, we don’t have access to that tool in Idaho. We need it. To get it, we need our legislators to provide local entities with the authority to use local option sales tax to develop their own solutions to their own needs. Local option authority is not a statewide tax – local option authority just provides permission for local entities to ask their voters if they want a tax.

The key to local option sales tax is that it is local – a local tax, voted on by local taxpayers, for a local project.

Community A may choose to initiate a small tax for a short period of time for a small project, such as a library. If that’s what that community wants, that’s OK.

Community B may initiate a larger tax for a longer period of time for a larger project, such as building a new water treatment plant. If that’s what that community wants, that’s OK.

Community C may choose to not use the tool at all. If that’s what that community wants, that’s OK.

Ironically, most of the arguments I hear against granting local option sales tax authority to local governments actually underscore why it is a good choice for Idaho, as it lets each community decide what is best for its own situation.

Argument #1. “It would make my county/city less competitive by having a higher tax than my neighbors.” If it’s not a good fit for your city or county, your city or county doesn’t have to use it. It is a local decision.

                                Shouldn’t each community be able to decide what works for them?

Argument #2. “I said I wouldn’t raise taxes.” All that is being requested of the Idaho legislature is authorization for local entities to access the local option sales tax tool. A vote for authorization is NOT a vote for higher taxes. A local option sales tax can only be implemented if the voters in the taxing district vote for the tax. If area residents don’t want higher taxes, they vote against the tax. It is a local decision.

Shouldn’t each community be able to ask its voters if they want to tax themselves?

Argument #3. “It’s only for public transportation; my community has different needs.” This is a common misconception. Many people use public transportation as an example of how local option could be used, which has led to the belief that that is the only way it could be used. That is simply not true. While I can’t say if the legislature would put restrictions on the types of projects local option could be used for, in concept, at least, it can be very broad, allowing each community the opportunity to address its unique situation. It could be used for a park in community “X,” a bridge in community “Y,” and, yes, a public transportation project in community “Z.” Once again, it is a local decision.

Shouldn’t each community have the ability to address its own unique needs?

So, if it’s that important, why am I talking about it now, when the legislature is no longer in session? I’m talking about it now because it’s too important an issue to relegate to the three months a year when the legislature is in session. We need to talk about it today, tomorrow, next month, and in January when the legislature convenes. Our legislators need to provide the tools that allow local needs to be addressed with local solutions.

Don’t let the Treasure Valley Fall through the Cracks

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Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho

COMPASS is the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization responsible for transportation planning in Ada and Canyon Counties. The COMPASS Board comprises 39 members representing the cities, counties, highway districts, educational institutions, state agencies, and other entities within the two counties. COMPASS plays an important role in making decisions about future long-range transportation needs in the Treasure Valley, taking into consideration environmental and economic factors that affect the quality of life.