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Local Option Advocates Look to 2014

"Kitchen cabinet' will try to work through legislature before advancing initiative to voters.


Boise Mayor Dave Bieter is anxious to put a local-option initiative before voters, but he'll need to patient. It will be 2014, at the earliest, before the topic could appear on an Idaho ballot.

Citydesk has learned that a so-called "kitchen cabinet" of business people and lawmakers (past and present) have opted to wait out the 2012 election cycle and begin a two-year effort to make local-option taxes a reality in communities throughout Idaho.

The first stop: the Idaho Statehouse.

"The Legislature does a great job but sometimes it takes a long time to get things through--five, six or even seven years," said political strategist Jason Lehosit.

Lehosit knows a thing or two about the Idaho Capitol, having managed several campaigns for some of the state's high-profile Republicans like Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and Lt. Gov. Brad Little. He may not agree politically with Democrat Bieter on every issue, but they have found common ground on local option.

"I know on this issue, we agree," said Lehosit. In fact, Lehosit sees local option as a rather conservative initiative.

"Our group is trying to create a very conservative piece of legislation--flexible enough to give local control to citizens across Idaho," he said. "I don't know if there's a disconnect [among Republicans] on this issue. Some lawmakers weren't 100 percent happy with it in the past, but I just don't think the right plan was in front of them."

But presuming that the Legislature still has little or no appetite for the measure, the kitchen cabinet (whose membership Lehosit wouldn't identify) is preparing Plan B: crafting a ballot initiative.

"We would have 18 months to collect enough signatures before April 30, 2014," said Lehosit. "That could put us on the November 2014 ballot."

But 2014 provides a significant challenge. To be eligible for a statewide ballot initiative, he'll need to collect signatures totaling 6 percent of the Idaho vote in this November's general election, which is expected to be fairly high given the presidential election. If, by comparison, they wanted to put it on this year's ballot, they would have needed 47,534 signatures, 6 percent of the 2010 vote.

Lehosit calls himself a "political hack," saying, "I do campaigns and elections," and leaves the details of local-option projects to communities.

"Twin Falls' needs are completely different from Boise's, Lewiston's or Coeur d'Alene's needs," he said. "Local communities throughout Idaho have projects that aren't in their current budgets. Sometimes they need to get those done through a sale tax. This would not be a levy."

Bieter isn't shy about how much Boise could accomplish with a local-option sales tax--using funding for a light-rail project or a new main library as examples.

"We're one of only two states without [the tax]. We can't do what we need to unless we have that authority," Bieter said during a February City Club event. "The authority ought to be closest to where the people are."