City Government

Boise City Has Yet Another “End Run” Ready

Team Dave has found another way around the will of the people in the form of a Local Improvement District (LID)in lieu of asking for permission of voters–or even property owners to fund the Mayor’s pet “Folly Trolley” project.
The GUARDIAN did some cursory research and finds the law to creat a LID has so many loopholes and different permutations that with just a simple majority of the council voting in favor, a heavy tax burden can be placed on downtown property owners to fund a trolley–or just about anything. They don’t HAVE to do it that way, but they CAN.

More important than the single issue of a trolley is the ongoing effort by Boise City’s legal department, councilors and mayor to justify end runs around the voters and the normal “due process” of running the city.

We can cite many examples where they have “done it their way” only to have their actions blow up in their collective face. They lost court cases on the police building, the airport parking garage, the 10 Commandments petition. The swap of land at 27th and Fairview to a private hospital group was abandoned shortly after the deal was consumated, despite grave concerns voiced by the GUARDIAN. That move was to avoid a public auction of city land.

Boise officials have long been active in an effort to change the constitution to prevent citizens from approving long term debt–like the financing that will be needed for a trolley.

All we would ask is for the council to simply put the financing to a vote of the citizens and ask their permission to embed iron rails in the streets and accept U.S. Government taxes for part of the cost of the project which cost upwards of $40 or 50 million. We deserve that courtesy.

Comments & Discussion

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  1. Government exists for government…they could care less about the inconvenience that are the voters.

  2. David A Honey
    Jun 5, 2009, 10:54 pm

    As per Idaho Code, Article VIII, Section 3, I believe a two-thirds vote of the people is necessary in order to incur long-term indebtedness. I am adamantly opposed to the Boise City Council approving a trolley, and the debt for it, without an appropriate vote. Now is not the time for this unnecessary expenditure.

  3. Tom Anderson
    Jun 6, 2009, 9:13 am

    I have long been a opponent of the trolley, but just a few days ago have been mostly converted.

    A very connected friend who was also an opponent, got the hard sell from the mayors office, and the details are too much for me to type up here.

    Some of the specifics that caught my interest were that you can take a rubber wheeled vehicle away tomorrow, not a rail system. A rail system signals a commitment that tells business it is time to invest, and commuters that it is time to dump the personal automobile, or use it a lot less.

    The downtown loop is just the first stage. The next stage is to run feeder rails out busy streets so that commuters can either hop on a train, or park their car well outside of town to ride in so as not to sit in a traffic jam.

    There are numerous studies that show what happened in other cities when light rail was introduced and the outcomes are very good.

    I won’t be fighting the trolley from here out. I think it might just be the thing we need if we would rather not have our city destroyed by every widening streets and the constant crush and pollution of dense personal automobile traffic.

  4. Local government is the worst form of government. The laundry list of things that they do that are clearly illegal is only slightly shorter than the list of things they do that is probably illegal. Local government seems to exist as an entity designed to operate within a gray world, empowered via state legislation to function without any real limits or effective forms of punishment for even obvious illegalities.

  5. Mike Murphy for Mayor
    Jun 6, 2009, 12:26 pm

    So long as the same players are returned to office, the game will never change.

  6. The point is not whether you are for or against the trolley. The point is that the tax payer should get to vote for or against the trolley.

  7. People who want something that most people do not want are always opposed to voting.

    It saddens me when these people find ways to rationalize their desires against the wishes of the majority. Typically, they use words like “investment” and “infrastructure,” and they jabber on using phrases they read in a business book or heard at some Chamber luncheon. They are the proverbial “B” students in a graduate business program who learn some of the lingo, but don’t have the foggiest clue about the theory, operation and practical meaning of the words. There’s a lot of people in this town, I’ve noticed, who are in far over their heads when it comes to this matters. They seem to flock to politics in droves.

  8. Tom Anderson
    Jun 6, 2009, 8:16 pm

    I am all for the vote of the people, and totally for democracy. Unforunatly, though, we do not live in a democracy, and our citizens are TV hypnotized morons who wouldn’t know a good thing for our city if it hit them square between the eyes.

    Every corporate project goes right through because it has a fat ad budget built in. Projects good for society don’t have the fat corporate bankroll though…

    If leaders cannot lead, we are screwed. Bieter is a good guy. Show him some love!

  9. Seems to me we need to give up on beating Bieter on the head over this kind of stuff. Now, we need to pound on legislators to change the laws that allow the city fathers and mothers (and sons … of —-) to bypass the constitutional and democratic requirements of submitting things to the voters.
    It shouldn’t be necessary for The Guardian or anyone to take the perps to court every time they ignore, bypass or subordinate the Idaho Constitution and the voters. State law should clearly state that they can’t do that, that doing it is a crime, and a matter for police and prosecutors to deal with.
    A few fines and prison terms just might get their attention.

  10. One of the reasons that the city is pushing the trolley so hard is that the R’s in the legislature will not allow the citizens of the Treasure Valley to vote on how to fund our transportation needs. So if it’s all about letting the people vote, be consistent and support local option taxes.

    EDITOR NOTE–The GUARDIAN has never opposed local option. The rub comes when proponents seek to do away with the 2/3 approval rule. The “super majority” protects nonresidents and commercial property owners from being taxed without representation. The alternative–a feudal system–is to allow ONLY property owners to vote since they are the ones paying the tax. About half of Ada County property valuation has no representation at the polls. For example, Valley County has a huge absentee landlord population subject to the will of a small group of local resident voters.

  11. I am not sure that “trolley” and “light rail” belong in the same sentence. Seems to me that they have totally different purposes. The trolley will do nothing for mass transit. Light rail would (but we can’t afford it). The trolley would allow people to move around downtown once they get there. That’s it.

  12. Looking for Numbers
    Jun 7, 2009, 10:06 am

    Does anyone have a link to an annual report on the current bus system?

  13. so, where are these people goin to come from? do they have to park somewhere and then ride the train? or are the the people who live in the area and can walk a few blocks?

  14. Dean Gunderson
    Jun 7, 2009, 3:53 pm


    Here’s the link to the last year-end audit. Valley Regional Transit’s fiscal year jives with the Federal (so the date of the audit is September):

    At every Board meeting there’s a Financial Committee report covering business expenses and income, since the last Board meeting. And at the following meeting the approved minutes (with the committee’s full approved report) is published on VRT’s website, here:

    What you might not be able to glean from the website & committee reports is the recent loss of all federal operational funds in the Boise Service Area (the Nampa Service Area still qualifies for federal subsidies). About a year ago, the fed’s determined that the Boise Service Area (essentially, all of Ada County) had exceeded the population cap placed on such assistance — this cut the operational funds in half. There’s still money to purchase equipment, but all money to pay for drivers, fuel and maintenance for operations in Ada County must now come from local sources (this has been a voluntary contribution from local governments).

    The federal decision is a bit Draconian, but the federal government has always looked at such assistance (to low-population areas) as seed money — to help communities learn how to help themselves. Once the population exceeds a certain threshold (the feds reason) the citizens have either embraced public transit enough to figure out a steady source of local operational funds — or it withers and dies.

    Course, the federal rules were written assuming that most states already permit local option taxing.

    – Dean

  15. You maybe correct, Mr. Anderson. I do not question whether or not Bieter is a good guy! I just happen to believe he is a lousy mayor! There certainly is a logical circumstance in that 30 years from now we could have a rail system that serves the whole valley. I would be more prone to support this effort if Bieter could point to any 2 of these systems in the country that are completely self-subsistant and profitable with no support or subsidies from any governmental or bureaucratic agency!
    In the eventuality that this program does comes to fruition, it will serve, by best estimates, 10% of the public. That seems like an awful lot of money for 10 out of 100 cars on the commute!
    And the “commitment” comment? Pure political BS!

  16. “Course, the federal rules were written assuming that most states already permit local option taxing.

    – Dean”

    That sort of assumes that more taxes are a good thing. Coming from the state with the highest tax per income ratio (Maine), a place with a tax or fee on almost every item and activity, I must say that all most taxes buy are more bureaucrats all intent on expanding their empires.

  17. The estimated cost of the streetcar is $65 million taxpayer dollars plus a 20-year LID (another tax no matter how you slice it) at 30 cents per square foot on whoever is within the LID boundaries.

    This works out to over $25 million per mile PLUS necessitates a perpetual subsidy from somewhere to continue to pay for its operation.

    In addition, they are already talking about future expansions of the streetcar, which will require ANOTHER $25 to $30 million of taxpayer dollars per mile in the future, plus MORE LID money, plus MORE subsidy money.

    If you haven’t figured it out by now, this is exactly why streetcars and light rail systems, by and large, are miserable failures from a purely ROI perspective. They are heavily subsidized; they rarely encourage business growth; they rarely live up to their predicted ridership claims; expanding them requires massive injections of additional taxpayer funds.

    The absolute WORST thing about a streecar project such as this is that it is essentially a train to nowhere. Have ANY of you been downtown lately and actually driven the proposed loop they are talking about? The passenger density is horrendously low. The notion that new businesses will eagerly be falling all over each other to relocate or build downtown to be next to a streetcar is purely laughable. We all *should* know where the real development is in the valley and it is NOT downtown, if it was going to happen down there it would have happened ALREADY.

    The other pure fallacy is that it will somehow create a tourist attraction downtown, which is something that exists only in a fantasy world in someones head.

    Having said all that, I am sure that with our current unrepresentative government that the decision has already been made behind closed doors to push this project through to completion. It’s very sad that, given the current state of affairs in this country, that the priorities of our ‘elected’ officials is to continue to waste money on pork barrel projects such as this.

    We can’t repair or build new schools, we can’t have decent health care, we can’t support the private sector in order to create more jobs, but by god we can sure have a nice electric train downtown. Talk about a set of priorities that is completely whacked.

  18. Tom Anderson
    Jun 9, 2009, 7:14 am

    Cyclops: If we want transportation systems to ‘pay for themselves’, then cars are getting a free ride and we need to solve that problem first.

    Cars are HEAVILY subsidized in the following ways:

    CHEAP GAS – Oil is cheaper per unit than bottled water and is kept cheap by our military efforts in the Middle East that consume over half of the federal budget.

    POLLUTION – Cars create many types of pollution not only in the operation, but in the initial construction, and they are causing a substantial amount of the global warming gasses that threaten the planet.

    DANGER – Cars are the most lethal product ever devised and would surely be deemed too dangerous to be produced and sold if judged by rational thought and the existing evidence.

    NOISE – Cars create noise pollution which hightens stress and anxiety. Noise is the number one complaint in cities all over America.

    NEGATIVE TRANSFORMATIVE POWER – Cars have created a sprawling infrastructure which is now totally dependant on cheap oil and widely available cars.

    If the true impact of cars, and all of their externalities were considered, they would cost 5 or 10 times what they do to buy initially, and the gasoline to power them would be $15 to $20 a gallon.

    Public transportation is cheap compared to the massive societal and environmental cost of the personal automobile.

  19. Tom Anderson, I just have one question for you. With all the horribleness of cars, I assume you never set foot in one for any reason at any time and keep your transportation choices to foot, bike and bus only?

  20. Tom, where do you think all that money for highway repairs, which our leaders refuse to fund, comes from? CARS!
    Taxed to purchase! Taxed to license! Taxed to fuel! Taxed to repair! Taxed for tires to make them run! Taxed to maintain! Taxed, Taxed! Taxed! And now you want them and all those taxes to go away so we can have a
    “choo-choo” that starts nowhere and ends nowhere for the next 15-20 years? UGH! Me take club and kill pig to drag back to cave! If you are really thinking about survival of the fittest, bring it! Because currently you are speaking about the demise of our society! Maybe the BFT isn’t such a good idea after all?

  21. LFN,

    Check out to see what numbers Valley Regional Transit (and other systems) is reporting to the Feds.

    Type Idaho (or any other state or city) in the search criteria under Annual Transit Profiles on the right side of the page and you’ll be able to get reports for Boise and other systems, like Pocatello, in Idaho.

    The last time I took an in depth look at the Boise operation alone it was recovering about 10% of its operating costs from fares. Pocatello was about 12%.

    Note that the numbers on the report are combined totals for both Boise and Nampa. To get specific numbers for the Boise operation (they aren’t pretty) you’ll need to contact Valley Regional Transit. The numbers for Nampa are downright ugly. Only the intercounty operations show some semblance of hope.


    Congress came through again last session for Boise and other small cities. Boise continues to receive, for FY 2008 and 2009, Federal operating assistance. About $ 500,000 per year. Last summer, if I recall correctly, VRT staff decided those newly found monies should go toward the Boise share of the Multi Modal Center without telling Hiz Honor. Hiz Honor was not pleased with that surprise particularly since it came in a public meeting. But now they’re both walking happily down the yellow brick road together again.

    As to local option tax, it isn’t the only tax option in the tax toolbox. Just the one being pushed the most by the local politicians. The Feds probably really don’t care how a local system is funded only that there is local funding.

    Tom Anderson,

    Might want to check more into those “other cities.” You might change your mind (again).

    Like how many of those cities are about Boise’s size (not the Metro area, Boise)? How many of those cities have a population density anywhere to close to Boise (probably none)? What do those streetcar and/or lightrail lines tie into at each end. Last time I looked we didn’t have anything even remotely resembling a METRA (Chicago) commuter rail line in Boise and Boise wasn’t a suburb to any large metropolitan area (like Chicago).

    Bellevue, Washington (recently touted locally for its multi modal center) decided a number of years ago NOT to have a downtown circular at all let alone a rail based circulator. ( Recently they opted to contract with the Seattle transit big dog to provide rubber tired (read bus) circulator service.

    Years ago (many years ago) COMPASS came up with the idea of a circulator between BSU and downtown. It was a simple concept using a simple rubber tired technology called a bus. That tidbit came from a COMPASS planner. The streetcar idea has been developed by the politicians who seem obsessed with anything rail.

    If the “experts” recently said commuter rail (a whole nother cat) won’t work in the Valley what makes you (or others) think a streetcar will?

    Sorry, but you’re hearing arguments that don’t even remotely apply to Boise. The streetcar is a really bad deal for all of us, especially the merchants who will have to pay the tax.

  22. Tom Anderson
    Jun 10, 2009, 9:59 am

    Sara: Using a car in a society designed to be navigated by car only, but understanding there extreme downside, is not hipocracy. In town I use a bike 90% of the time, a motor scooter 10% of the time, and a van for out of town excursions, usually taking others along.

    Cyclops: I’ve seen you on a bike, but never in a car. I doubt you own one. How can a avid bike rider be so supportive of cars?

    Does the end of the age of the automobile mean the demise of our society?? You’ve got it backwards; the car was the demise of our society. It made us dependant on a costly, dangerous means of conveyance that rewarded us with an obese, weak, and sickly populace, and destroyed our social fabric. It forced us into servitude of the American Empire.

    As oil prices rise again (discover ‘Peak Oil’ via Google) and choke off our economy, the car will fade into the dustbin of history and we will be better for it. The demise of the personal automobile is not the end, but a new, hopeful beginning.

    It is rather disturbing that most of the posts on this site are extremely hateful, and equally uninformed.

  23. Tom Anderson – I don’t get the “extremely hateful” posts reference.

    I see the posts not agreeing with you or the concept of the trolley, but I don’t think those could be considered “hateful”.

    And quite frankly, most of the posts ARE informed. Again, you might not agree with them, but that doesn’t mean the posters are “uninformed”.

  24. Tom, I do indeed own a car. It’s 8 years old and gets 34 mpg. The reason I am so resolute about cars is simply that they make up over 90% of our transportation needs. That is a fact that we can postulate about forever and, given the current situation, will not change.Things become obsolete when an alternative comes along that is better. Right now there is no alternative to the car that is better and more importantly, convenient to the masses. No hatred here, just frustration with those who want to force something on this community because it would be “cool”.

  25. sam the sham
    Jun 14, 2009, 1:08 am

    Who owns Dave B? Looks like downtown businesses. After all, we have a bus system which makes it faster to walk from Timberline School to Roosevelt and Cassia than to take the city bus (2.5 hours via the bus). But then, the bus is just for the people of Boise – the taxpayers – not the business owners of downtown (and let us not forget the North End where Dave B. lives, and his friends live).

  26. There are so many bad things coming with this in the name of being green and I am Mr. Green and its BS. We will have powerlines all over downtown (Beiter in utility’s pockets now?) and also nice ruts for our bike tires to plow through. The end of a twilight race? I bet so. This stinks.

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