City Government

White Paper Explains Constitutional Challenge To Voter Rights

This is the first in what we expect to be many discussions of three constitutional amendments before Idaho voters on November 2. The GUARDIAN will be crusading like an old time newspaper editor to preserve our voting rights, defending the Idaho constitution and the rights of citizens to hold the “power of the purse” when it comes to public debt. The issue is one of “right vs power-hungry politicos” rather than any particular project.


Bowing to the pressure of local government lobbyists, more than 2/3 of the 2010 legislature passed three proposed constitutional amendments dealing with AIRPORTS, PUBLIC HOSPITALS, and POWER GENERATING CITIES.

All three seek to deny citizens their existing rights to vote on public financing of these facilities.

Not a single citizen or group of citizens came to the legislature begging to be relieved of their right to vote. Elected officials statewide don’t trust the judgement of voters to make the right choices.

It’s absurd to ask citizens to go to the polls and vote to deny themselves the right to vote and that’s exactly what HJR5 does. As a nation we have fought wars around the globe to insure that people have the right to vote, not deny them that right with deceptive wording on the ballot.

Each of the three proposed amendments to the Idaho Constitution on the November 2 ballot seeks to deny electors their existing constitutional right to approve municipal debt…and the shameful part is that NONE of the measures reveals that citizens rights are being trampled.

Instead of saying “WITHOUT PERMISSION OF VOTERS,” the craftily worded proposals relating to airports–HJR5–and Power Cities–HJR7–say bonds (public debt) “shall not be secured by the full faith and credit or the taxing power of the subdivision or regional airport authority”. Deceitful at best!

The one relating to hospitals–HJR4– simply ignores the issue of voter approval that currently is mandated by the constitution.

Article 8, section 3 of the constitution gives municipalities (cities and counties) certain spending authority, but in each case those local governments must obtain, “ASSENT OF THE ELECTORS.”

For years, local governments routinely went around the will of the people to finance pet projects by invoking the “ordinary and necessary” provision, which allowed municipalities to seek “judicial confirmation” from a district court judge that a project was legal.

That all changed when David R. Frazier challenged the city of Boise’s plans to build a $19 million police station and later a $27 million parking garage–without seeking permission from the voters.

The airport parking garage issue went to the Idaho Supreme Court. The court issued the landmark FRAZIER decision in 2006 which carved in stone the fact municipalities MUST seek voter permission to spend funds that exceed a single year’s revenues. In short: DEBT that requires either bonds or other long term obligations to spend citizen’s money. And for the record, ALL money collected by government–regardless of the revenue source–is public money.

The court also defined “ordinary and necessary” to be unforeseen expenses of an emergency nature involving public safety or mandated by a court order that couldn’t wait until the next election for voter approval. That put the brakes on wild local spending and prompted numerous attempts at legislation–including constitutional amendments.

None of the ballot measures tell voters in plain English the rights they currently hold will be eliminated, but all three measures quietly eliminate the key phrase “with assent of the voters.” The proposals need a simple majority at the polls to alter the constitution following the 2/3 vote of the legislature which put them on the ballot.

The issue is CITIZEN APPROVAL of debt rather than the merits of any particular project. In Idaho the citizens hold the “power of the purse.”

The official ballot language is provided below for your convenience and reference.


“Shall Article VIII, of the Constitution of the State of Idaho be amended by the addition of a New Section 3E, to provide for the issuance of revenue and special facility bonds by political subdivisions of the state and regional airport authorities as defined by law, if operating an airport to acquire, construct, install, and equip land, facilities, buildings, projects or other property, which are hereby deemed to be for a public purpose, to be financed for, or to be leased, sold or otherwise disposed of to persons, associations or corporations, or to be held by the subdivision or regional airport authority, and may in the manner prescribed by law issue revenue and special facility bonds to finance the costs thereof; provided that any such bonds shall be payable solely from fees, charges, rents, payments, grants, or any other revenues derived from the airport or any of its facilities, structures, systems, or projects, or from any land, facilities, buildings, projects or other property financed by such bonds, and shall not be secured by the full faith and credit or the taxing power of the subdivision or regional airport authority?”.

“Shall Section 3C, Article VIII, of the Constitution of the State of Idaho be amended to authorize public hospitals, ancillary to their operations and in furtherance of health care needs in their service areas, to incur indebtedness or liability to purchase, contract, lease or construct or otherwise acquire facilities, equipment, technology and real property for health care operations, provided that no ad valorem tax revenues shall be used for such activities?”

“Shall Article VIII, of the Constitution of the State of Idaho be amended by the addition of a New Section 3D to provide that any city owning a municipal electric system may:
(a) acquire, construct, install and equip electric generating, transmission and distribution facilities for the purpose of supplying electricity to customers located within the service area of each system established by law and for the purpose of paying the cost thereof, may issue revenue bonds with the assent of a majority of the qualified electors voting at an election held as provided by law; and
(b) incur indebtedness or liability under agreements to purchase, share, exchange or transmit wholesale electricity for the use and benefit of customers located within such service area; provided that any revenue bonds, indebtedness or liability shall be payable solely from the rates, charges or revenues derived from the municipal electric system and shall not be secured by the full faith and creditor the taxing power of the city, the state or any political subdivision?” .

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. So how does the “old newspaper editor” plan to get the word out? Words of disdain for Newspapers- such as Twitter, Facebook, blog and social media seem to be fairly effective now a days.

    I am sure 99% of readers to the BG agree with your sentiments so we must reach out to those who need some education on this subject.

    EDITOR NOTE– I just finished a speech to a service club in Jerome and at least half a dozen of those members picked up the “white paper” to copy and distribute to their friends. If you will get it on Twitter, Facebook etc. it would sure help. This is a grass roots move and bound to thwart the $60,000 effort of Team Dave.

  2. I expect the ammendments proposed on the ballot will be the yes means no and no means yes type to make sure no one will realize what they are voting for or against.

    EDITOR NOTE–No means no in this case, but NONE of the amendments have honest language that say in plain English that if passed citizens will no longer be able to approve public debt in the areas of airports, hospitals, and power generating cities.

  3. Seriously Awkward
    Aug 31, 2010, 10:32 pm

    It’s clear you don’t understand how government financing actually works, but even more frightening that someone claiming to be a journalist doesn’t understand how to write a white paper.

    EDITOR NOTE–Last time we heard the finance allegation Boise had to pay taxes on their privately owned fire stations. The courts also seem comfortable with our comprehension.

  4. So get it thrown out for using dishonest language.

    EDITOR NOTE–We tried and it was an obvious intent of the legislative council to leave it deceptive. It may actually be a good campaign point for those cherish the constitutional rights we have.

  5. Chris Mitchell
    Sep 1, 2010, 8:20 am

    I can’t speak for the other amendments but HJR 5 puts Idaho on a level playing field with 9 other western states (California is the exception) when it comes to airport financing. California and Idaho are the only states that require a 2/3 vote to pass airport revenue bonds. We are losing business to other states who can move more quickly when it comes to building airport infrastructure. Not only that, but have any of you seen how this passed through the legislature? Only 13 of our representatives voted no. If they represent the people then the people have spoken.

    EDITOR NOTE–Based on your information it appears Idaho is in a “leadership role” on the issue and shares the same rules as California whose economy is bigger than most nations of the world. I assure you kind sir the legislature did not represent the people. You will be hard pressed to find any “people” who wish to eliminate their constitutional right to vote. These amendments don’t seek to change the 2/3 requirement, they all seek to ELIMINATE THE PEOPLE from the equation period.

    For better or worse the Rs made it part of their party platform to oppose the amendment after the majority of them in the legislature approved it…go figure.

  6. Since you “don’t understand how government financing actually works,” Dave, perhaps the spending of taxpayer dollars is something that should be left in the hands of the Enlightened Few who have condescended to be our “public servants.”

    “Seriously Awkward” obviously is of the Enlightened Minority.

    Now [with a gentle pat on the head] run along, Dave, and don’t cause trouble. They know what’s best.

    My big and legitimate fear is that Election Day will conflict with the finals of America’s Got Talent, so lots of folks will miss the opportunity to participate. (I’m sure you get my point, despite your obviously questionable capacity.) Of course, our City (and State and Federal) Fathers are counting on us NOT paying attention… it’s worked for a long time.

    (Your viewpoints and involvement are sincerly appreciated by THIS reader, Dave. Thanks!)

  7. The whole of it all is we are not taxed too little but government spends too much.

    User pay for governement services is something we all need to consider.

    Growth needs to be paid for by those who generate the need for more and higher user fees.

  8. Block it with an injunction for using deceptive language. Heck ya cant sell a pill anymore without all the negatives included.

  9. Joe Plumber
    Sep 3, 2010, 5:51 am

    CURRENTLY, Art.8, Section 3 of the Constitution requires a tax levy for every voted indebtedness. So if we have to vote on service contracts for electrical power purchases, then don’t we have to levy a tax to pay for the power purchased? No thanks. My property taxes are high enough without covering expense of power purchases! Let electric rates pay for electric service. HJR 7 fixes the insanity and puts electric service on the same playing field as water and sewer service! And there is a voter provision in HJR 7 – so lets get the FACTS out there!

    EDITOR NOTE–Joe, HJR7 is a two parter. There is indeed a vote for CONSTRUCTION of power generating facilities. No problem. However the contract provision would allow a city to enter into open ended agreements obligating the ratepayers (who are also taxpayers in city-owned systems) to agreements like the one Idaho Falls tried for 17 years. With 200 wind generators coming online in the next couple of years in Eastern Idaho, it is only reasonable to allow citizens to weigh in. Burley had a vote on the issue and it passed handily. It is hardly an imposition to allow a vote every 17 years. Citizen oversight can prevent deals with cronies as well…politicos change with the wind, but the constitution shouldn’t.

  10. “Let me get this straight. You want to tie the hands of our power cities so they can only buy electrical power twice a year, after the general election or primary election? What if the price on those dates is sky high? After the Enron debacle, I say, let the elected officials buy power when market prices are favorable, rather than being constrained by some arbitrary date! HJR 7 makes sense!”

    EDITOR NOTE–You make a good case for allowing people to vote. If they make a deal like I.F. tried for 17 years, the people are restrained from the benefit of lower rates in the future. Matter of semantics, but you apparently wish to deny citizens of their existing right to oversee major financial decisions that bind them for decades.

  11. Seriously Awkward
    Sep 4, 2010, 4:11 pm

    Aside from bikeboy’s condescension, what would be your point? A white paper contains factual information with research supporting it. This states your opinion of the matter, which is clearly biased against these amendments. This doesn’t state facts. In fact, given later posts, it doesn’t seem you want anyone to be able to state the facts. We get it, you don’t like Mayor Bieter or these amendments. Fine. But at least use facts rather than opinion to argue against him.

    EDITOR NOTE–Please indicate any factual errors in the report. We don’t have the benefit of $60,000 in public funds to build websites and pay dues to the highly partisan Association of Idaho Cities. Awkward, please let us know if you too are a sibling of Team Dave’s press agent.

  12. Joe Plumber
    Sep 23, 2010, 7:52 pm

    “Editor” – hey, it’s Joe, I’m back… I did a little research to your “Editor Note” (BTW, who is editor?). BPA power on average costs $35 per megawatt-hour. The newest wind power east of Idaho has been marked to LA (yes, that’s Los Angeles) for $160 per megawatt. I think California has priced us out of the market – but we still need to keep the lights on. I don’t think we are interested any time soon in substituting the BPA power for wind power…. AND my power city enters into 5-6 power service contracts per year – this is NOT “just” a BPA contract issue!

    EDITOR NOTE–Joe, glad you’re back and doing some research. The BPA ref was the supreme court test cast that was decided in July. The point we are making is that if a city gets obligated for 17 years, it sort of cuts into and other opportunities. Folks in Burley voted and handily approved the long term agreement. No telling who the next mayor or councilor mayh be, so it is wise to retain your oversight. If you choose not to vote that’s OK, but don’t take the right away from others.

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