"There's a lot going on," is a phrase Boise Mayor Dave Bieter uses often, but it's truer than usual these days. So much so that BW decided that if anybody qualified as "Citizen Boise" these days, it's Bieter. Whether it's reeling from legal challenges, as in the lawsuit filed by the Ada County Highway District, or facing a setback from the Idaho Supreme Court's ruling that the 10 Commandments monument placement still deserves a public vote, Bieter's city hall hasn't fared well in court lately. Out on the streets, however, summertime is hopping; developer Mark Rivers is ready to push BoDo south and rebuild Boise's library, something Bieter has been planning to do himself. Lastly, he explains why he thinks this week's special session is a bad deal for taxpayers, and why now is the time to think about commuter trains for the Treasure Valley.
BW: Let's start with the 10 Commandments issue, which apparently will go to a vote in November. If a majority votes to put the monument back in Julia Davis Park, will you go along with that?
Bieter: I haven't commented on that, and I probably won't. There's a lot to consider there. We believe, collectively, and certainly I believe, that it was an administrative decision. That was the issue that went to the Supreme Court, that they basically punted on. Whether after a vote that says, yes, they want it there, we would go and say, 'No, sorry, it's administrative and we're not going to put it there,' I just don't know. It just depends on a whole lot of factors and it's going to have to be, at that point, a [Boise City Council] discussion if not a council decision.
I think the other important piece is with the idiot [the anti-gay activist Fred Phelps who told Boise City Council that if the 10 Commandments were allowed that he should be able to place a monument with an anti-gay message] that began this whole thing. My anticipation is that we're going to hear from him again, with the Matthew Shepard craziness that began it. It's just going to have to evolve a little bit on a lot of fronts.
If the vote passed, and you denied it, you would in effect be handing the Brandi Swindells of the world an axe to grind.
I do want people to know what they might be buying, essentially. In addition to the cost--and the costs of the vote are fairly high; and we'll get final numbers soon but it's somewhere between $40,000 and $60,000 because we can't use the same machinery and workers of the original vote--then I'm almost 100 percent sure we'd buy litigation of some kind, whether it's the ACLU or Phelps trying to put something else there.
So I think people need to understand that.
If that's disseminated and I hope that happens, and people decide they want us to pursue that anyway, that's pretty important.
How about this new BoDo South development? Developer Mark Rivers is pushing this thing hard, and he's looking for the city to help, financially. Your comments have been pretty measured. Why is that?
I maybe have been a little less successful than I wanted to be about saying that I'm excited about it, that it's a very exciting proposal. As early as when I was first elected, my hope was to draw interest in a public-private partnership of some kind. This is extremely tangible, and it's exciting. It's captured people's imagination, and mine as well, and that of council members.
That's what we hoped. But it's my duty to have vetted it financially, especially, and not let the enthusiasm get ahead of that. Because the timing is good overall, because we've engaged this anyway. We're looking at all our options on the main library and the branches, and we're preparing several scenarios to take public, to get as much feedback from the citizens about it. So this fits with that very well. I'm real excited about the energy behind this issue.
What do you think of Gov. Risch's special session, in which he wants to reduce property taxes but raise the sales tax?
A couple of things, just for some context: Gov. Risch, in his comments to the [Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce last month], the best thing he did was to frame the issue correctly in saying it's a state issue. Gov. Kempthorne, I think, it was irresponsible for him to say, 'This is a local issue.' That caused us all real harm, because people believed that, as you would expect they would. And it was patently false. It caused us problems, let alone if you're an assessor trying to obey the law, and you get that handed to you.
Risch has been very candid that this is a state issue, and that's been very helpful in and of itself.
Having said that, I'm concerned that you take this big a step in a one-day session. I think that's not the best way to go about this. I don't prefer that they give it to you in one pocket and take it out of the other. That, I think, is certainly a concern of mine. If you're going to give tax relief, I prefer that you give it, and not take it out of another spot.
The sales tax is regressive. We're one of the few states that taxes food. That makes it worse.
Thinking of transit, we'd like to [create a local option tax option]. Admittedly, that's also regressive, but it disproportionately favors those that need transit, though. So it's a better deal in that way.
I'd prefer that the whole state remove the sales tax on food.
We've got plenty of issues on our plate, to get too far into the state issues, but those are the concerns that I have.
To focus on transit, we've certainly published stories that say our current ability to deliver effective transit has problems. And yet, we're considering these rather grand ideas about trains, trolleys and things like that. How realistic is it to be thinking about a grand scale of transportation when the system we currently have seems to be suffering?
It's absolutely essential that we advocate for the local option tax. We'll have a cobbled-together system until we get that funding, a secure funding source that's not property-tax based. We've lost ground in federal funding. As you get bigger, you lose federal funding.
The good news is, even with the half-cent [local option tax], if we get it, a rail component is feasible. The first focus is on a bus system that really works. The tendency has been that, those tax revenues have been undervalued. You get more than has been anticipated.
I think it's important that you look at a rail component. It's just a better way to go. People will leave their cars at home. You get a more compact development [pattern], because people demand that you bring the system to them. In any successsful transit system that I'm aware of, you gotta take a leap out into it.
Gov. Kempthorne said, in the articles I've read, that it's not time yet. By the time it is time, it's too late, that's the problem. A lot of people recognize that now is the time.