Monday, March 7, 2016

Lessons from the Heartland…

Last month, we were honored to host Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett to present on his city’s successes and challenges using local option sales tax.

It is truly a rags to riches story. Not long ago, Oklahoma City had one of the most depressed economies in the nation. Today, the city’s economy is one of the nation’s most robust.

Oklahoma City has invested nearly $2 billion in schools and quality-of-life infrastructure through the innovative MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects) program – funded by local option sales tax. That investment generated nearly $6 billion in private sector investment.

Local option sales tax is a means for local citizens to decide if they wanted to tax themselves to pay for a specific project to address a local or regional need. If the citizens approve the tax, it is instituted and the project proceeds. If they don’t, no new tax is instituted and the project does not proceed.

So, what do Oklahoma City’s experiences have to do with us? We’re not Oklahoma City. We have different needs. We have a smaller population base. Local option sales tax isn’t even an option here.

With the exception of the last item (local option isn’t available here), these are actually reasons why local option sales tax IS such a good tool – each community can use it for its needs, based on its own population base. It’s not a “one size fits all” approach. We don’t have to be Oklahoma City for it to work.

But…as I said, local option sales tax is not an option for us at this time. We first need the Idaho legislature to grant that authority to all local governments. Right now, only small resort cities can take advantage of this powerful tool.

The COMPASS Board strongly supports general local option sales tax authority legislation. We invited Mayor Cornett to the Treasure Valley to learn about his city’s program to further that discussion. People ask me if that means we are promoting the Oklahoma City “model” of local option sales tax. The answer is “no.” Others have asked if I think we should we adopt Utah’s model. Again, my answer is “no.” We should create our own “Idaho” model.

Visits like Mayor Cornett’s allow us to learn from what others have done. This is the one advantage we have in being one of the last states to allow local option sales tax – we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We can see what has worked and what has not. We can learn from other region’s successes and challenges.

Then, we can look at all we’ve learned in light of Idaho’s needs, concerns, and population base, and craft a model that works for Idaho.

It is time to get past arguing over “if” Idaho should allow local option sales tax and instead focus on how an “Idaho model” could function to serve the needs of the citizens of the State of Idaho and the Treasure Valley.

Are you ready to learn more?

 Don’t let the Treasure Valley fall through the cracks.

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.