Out legislative committees meet in fairly small rooms downstairs from the floor of the house here in the old Ada County Courthouse, our temporary Capitol. We sit in big chairs around folding tables with maroon skirts around them and when we vote a roll call vote the ayes and nays snake around the table and table extensions sometimes in the shape of a big "E."
I can't even count how many years people have been coming to the legislature with requests for authority to raise their own local sales taxes to address their own local needs. Again and again people have come to the legislature desperate for public transportation funding to address their own public transportation needs. After last year's public transit bill came darn close to passing to the floor, some Republican leaders who oppose public transportation generally said the bill needed to include local funding for local roads as well. The now statewide coalition supporting the bill complied and changed the bill to include roads.
Next Rep. Mike Moyle, key opponent of public transportation, then said that we needed a constitutional amendment before he would allow a public transit bill to get out of Revenue and Taxation Committee. Canyon County legislators who at some point last year had heard their constituents and agreed we needed public transit funding, today seem to have bowed down to the idea that a constitutional amendment should be passed before we address public transportation needs.
What does this mean for any community with broken buses, bare bones service or no service at all? What happens to businesses who suffer from a lack of parking or people waking up in wee hours to commute through dense traffic? What is the consequence to the elderly and people with disabilities, to those with no alternative but to walk, beg a ride or take a cab? Delay.
We will wait now while the legislature debates this constitutional amendment, while it goes to the voters for likely approval. Who wouldn't agree local people should be able to raise their own local taxes for their own local needs? A majority likely will, even statewide. But what does it gain us? Nothing. We can already let local people vote to raise their own sales tax and some communities around the state do just that for jails or for tourist services. It keeps them from having to raise property taxes and let's local folks set priorities for what is urgently needed locally rather than waiting on the state or feds to even care. Funny though, until we pass the "Moving Idaho Forward" bill waiting hostage to this constitutional amendment, we still will not be able to fund public transportation or roads by a local option tax.
So all this is to say that the legislature is wasting tax payers time. We are just standing in the way of the needs of many areas where people sit in long lines of cars to get to work, where smog rises and the big federal hammer of air quality "non-Attainment" is about to come down. Let's not pretend there will be no victims to this political game. There will be. There already are.