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Streetcar It Because, Well, Yes You Can


Political opponents to Boise Mayor Dave Bieter scored a one-two punch last week, forcing the City Council to stall a $90,000 public relations contract that would have helped craft the city's streetcar spin and initiating a petition drive by a city council candidate to force a popular vote on the $60 million plan.

Sucking the hind teat of Boise blogger Dave Frazier, the Idaho Statesman editorialized against the PR contract with Statesman editorialist Kevin Richert arguing that Bieter has bungled the project.

But here is something that has been lost in the streetcar counter-spin, which is now sailing under Frazier's banner headline Trolly Folly: The city is pursuing a downtown streetcar because that's the one transit project it can pursue.

Opposition candidates for City Council, also taking Frazier's lead, are advocating for a bus-first approach, which comes off as disingenuous when coupled with their anti-tax stances.

But Boise is only one partner in the regional bus system, the largest player for sure, but only one player on the cash-strapped agency's board. The city, along with Valley Regional Transit, has advocated for many years for local option taxes to pay for a better bus system or light rail into Canyon County, to no avail. VRT and Valley Ride are supported by voluntary contributions from Treasure Valley cities and cannot raise their own tax base, so the city has limited means for unilaterally boosting the regional bus system.

Similarly, some have argued that what is really needed is a high-speed train into Canyon County, again, something the city supports. But Boise can't build its own light rail to Caldwell without support from all the mayors--and state legislators--along the route.

So when Bieter sat down two years ago to craft his State of the City speech, he announced that he'd be tackling the one major transit project that his administration could pull off, a downtown streetcar, with plans for three additional spurs sometime in the future. The first line Bieter hopes to pay for with a large federal grant and a Local Improvement taxing district, which many of the downtown property owners along the streetcar route--the ones who will pay for it--have supported all along. It is short, but still useful to those who work or park on the outer edges of the downtown core (St. Luke's, the Linen District). The spurs, which will eventually connect downtown to Boise State, out to 30th Street, and down to Parkcenter, will be even more useful.

Now citydesk just came up with that spin all on our own and it won't cost you, the public, a dime, because BW is always free. But here's our advice to the City Council: Get some professional help on this so you don't bungle the one chance Boise has to make some public transportation headway in Idaho.

If you don't, you may have to deal with more citizen initiatives from the likes of Ryan Davidson next.

Davidson, the guy who almost put the (Thai) stick back into the Wood River Valley, scored a minor victory against the man in a Blaine County courtroom in recent weeks. That is, if the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation's top pressure group for the legalization of weed, can be considered "the man."

Davidson won a grant from MPP back in 2004 to run pro-marijuana initiatives in Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley. He relocated to Blaine County and hired on some buddies. But when all three cities rejected Davidson's initial petition drive, MPP cut him loose, saying he did not live up to his promises.

Davidson persevered on his own, however, suing all three cities and eventually winning three pro-pot ballot measures in Hailey. The city of Hailey now has a pot advisory committee and is exploring the possibilities for medical marijuana use.

Last year, Davidson sued MPP, trying to recoup $44,000, the unpaid portion of his grant. A Blaine County jury found him deserving, but awarded him a mere $11,000, which Davidson doubts he'll ever see.

Davidson has moved back to Garden City, where he is involved in local GOP politics as a Ron Pauler and works in pest control with his father, but says he is basically unemployed at the moment since all the bugs are now frozen.

Meanwhile, the fight for marijuana in Idaho may soon move to the State Legislature. Rep. Tom Trail, a Moscow Republican and agricultural expert, has renewed his pledge to introduce a medical marijuana bill in January along the lines of the laws in Washington, Nevada, Montana, Oregon and Hawaii.

In the same vein, it is becoming increasingly clear what the Idaho Congressional delegation has been smoking in terms of health care reform. The Idaho Statesman revealed last week that Idaho's three Republican reps pay a mere $356.59 a month for federal health coverage for themselves and their spouses. They get a low-deductible plan provided by Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Democrat Walt Minnick pays quite a bit more to cover his wife and two young kids--$1,120.47.

But aside from their reasonable and comprehensive health coverage, which Minnick spokesman John Foster attributed to the large federal pool in which they swim, Idaho lawmakers have also been swimming in cash from the very parties profiting from our broken healthcare system.

Sen. Mike Crapo leads the pack with $908,241 in total health sector campaign contributions in the last two decades. Rep. Mike Simpson has taken $390,329 from health interests since 1989, which include health insurers, pharmaceutical companies, health professionals, nursing homes and hospitals. Minnick has netted $144,164 from these interests in his short year in office and Sen. Jim Risch has $94,200 in health gravy to his name.

This data all comes from the Web site, a project of the Center for Responsive Politics.