Boise Chamber of Commerce backs public transit tax

Move over Salt Lake and Denver. Taking a page out of the transit success stories in other larger intermountain west cities, Boise is trying to but the anit-tax, anti-transit sentiment of the state.

In an anti-tax climate, Boise Chamber of Commerce CEO Nancy Vannorsdel is pushing to empower voters to impose a half-cent sales tax for public transit in Ada and Canyon counties.

Vannorsdel, a former banker, acknowledges the chamber usually fights taxes. “I know, it’s an oxymoron,” she said. “We may very well be a recipient of that award. But the marketplace is changing. Workforce will be the No. 1 issue in the next 10 years. Getting people to and from work, and having them live where they want to live, is pretty important. Transportation has become a big issue for business.”

Vannorsdel and her board are allied with the Coalition for Regional Public Transportation, co-chaired by Home Federal Bancorp CEO Dan Stevens, former Idaho Transportation Board Chairman Chuck Winder and Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas.

They want to allow Valley Regional Transit, which has no taxing authority, to ask voters in November 2008 to back a half-cent sales tax. That would raise an estimated $964 million over 20 years to buy right-of-way from Boise to Caldwell, vastly improve bus service and start light-rail.

Their draft bill says a simple majority of voters in a transit district could approve a sales tax of up to a half-penny. It also would authorize bonds approved by a two-thirds vote.

The prospects for the bill, however, look dim. Proponents are watching the ongoing developments in Utah as Gov. John Huntsman said last week he’s considering a special session for lawmakers to consider the Salt Lake Chamber’s call for allowing voters to boost the existing transit sales tax. Voter approval in November could raise $17.7 billion over 10 years and accelerate the 2030 transit plan to completion by 2015. That would more than double light-rail mileage, build 45 miles of commuter rail from north to south, and add 175 miles of bus rapid transit, much of it on dedicated lanes.

That heartens Vannorsdel. “What’s so exciting about the Salt Lake model is it’s not an East Coast proposal. It’s right next door.”

Precisely. Salt Lake is our cultural sibling. Ridership on three new light-rail lines has doubled projections, and many Idahoans know the system. If Utahns have the intestinal fortitude to invest, get out of their cars and head off commuting nightmares, why can’t we?

Read the full article in the Idaho Statesman . . .

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