Senate Republicans on Wednesday squashed North Idaho lawmakers’ attempt to revive a bill to help cities pay for the stress of rapid growth.
The 23-10 defeat came nine days after the House of Representatives passed the bill by a four-to-one margin. The bill would have allowed any city to charge so-called impact fees, provided local voters agreed.
The fees, charged on new construction, help pay for police stations, roads, fire trucks, sewer lines and other services.
“I’m not only disap pointed, but somewhat concerned. The pressure is growing here to control growth,” said Coeur d’Alene Mayor Al Hassell. Without impact fees, the city could be forced to restrict new construction, he said.
The Senate skirmish started with freshman Sen. Gordon Crow, R-Coeur d’Alene. He asked the Senate to pry HB191 loose from a committee where the bill was going to die. The move was unusual, especially for a freshman bucking his party.
Committee Chairman Jerry Thorne, R-Nampa, rose to his microphone and asked the Senate to let the bill die.
“The bill is not fair. It taxes the wrong people,” said Thorne. “It taxes those people who may have lived in an area all their lives, paid their taxes and now, because they want to move across the street, have to pay an impact fee. It’s also very unfair to business.”
Thorne said current law, which allows impact fees to be charged only in Ada County, is hurting growth around Boise.
“Industry has suffered greatly here because of this overwhelming burden that has been put on them,” he said.
Crow argued that residents of Coeur d’Alene and Kootenai County “feel as though they’ve been victims to a natural disaster, called growth.” He offered to allow amendments to the bill.
“We’re in dire straits in Kootenai County,” he said. “In the sense of walking a mile in my moccasins, I would defy anyone to drive a mile of our roads or look at a mile of our sewer system.”
In an unusual alliance, Democratic Sen. Mary Lou Reed of Coeur d’Alene rose to support Crow, a Republican.
“We really are desperate,” she told the Senate. “We’re at the point where jobs may be in question because there could be a moratorium on annexation.”
Sen. Sue Reents, D-Boise, said it’s unfair for the current law to allow only Ada County to impose impact fees.
Sen. Grant Ipsen, R-Boise, fought back, calling impact fees “an insidious cost of doing business.” If he had his way, he said, Ada County wouldn’t be able to charge the fees either.
Sen. Stan Hawkins, R-Ucon, said growth pressures aren’t unique to North Idaho.
“I have Teton County screaming for impact fees,” he said. “This is not the answer.” He said he didn’t like the bill because it would apply to any new construction, not just new homes.
After all the arguments, the vote followed party lines. Most Democrats voted to bring the bill to the floor and most Republicans voted to let it die in committee.
Among those who broke ranks, Republican Sen. Clyde Boatright of fast-growing Rathdrum voted with Crow.
Sen. Tim Tucker, D-Porthill, however, voted against his party - in fact, he seconded Thorne’s motion to leave the bill in committee.
Afterward, Senator Reed said the overwhelming vote to let the bill die demonstrates the Senate’s unwillingness to turn authority over to local cities and counties. It also shows, she said, how much sway rural lawmakers hold over the Legislature.
“What it best illustrates is that the Senate doesn’t seem to be responsive or sympathetic to areas that are experiencing rapid growth,” she said. “We do not have the clout we’d like to have.”
Crow and Reed both said they’d be back with similar proposals next year.
“We’re all mulling over what we do next,” Reed said.
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