BOISE – Seven bills to limit the authority of urban renewal districts in Idaho were proposed Wednesday, including one from a lawmaker who said the state wouldn’t need urban renewal to get rid of crime and blight if more people would carry guns.
“A lot of people know that … communities where it’s legal to carry weapons for self-protection have a lower crime rate, and that has been pointed out by numerous things that I’ve read,” Rep. Robert Schaefer, R-Nampa, told the House Local Government Committee as he proposed legislation to eliminate urban renewal entirely.
Committee members had lots of questions but introduced Schaefer’s bill anyway, along with five others. One measure, from Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, was sent back for changes rather than introduced.
Sims, a longtime critic of urban renewal efforts in Coeur d’Alene who once called the city’s involvement in developing the Ray and Joan Kroc Center a “criminal conspiracy,” proposed legislation to require countywide elections for urban renewal board members. Her bill also would forbid those board members from holding any other elected office, but acting Rep. Julie Chadderdon, R-Coeur d’Alene, a longtime GOP precinct committee officer, suggested excluding positions like hers from that restriction.
Sims agreed to the change, but it meant she’ll have to try again to introduce her bill.
“To a great extent urban renewal taxpayer dollars have been abused by many throughout the state,” Sims said. “That’s what happens when the law is incorrectly written – predators move in and they exploit its good intentions.”
Tony Berns, executive director of the Lake City Development Corp. in Coeur d’Alene, said the agency has done “tons” for the community. “There are people like Ms. Sims and others that just philosophically disagree with urban renewal,” Berns said, calling it “a very vital, locally controlled economic development tool.”
Berns said lawmakers in the past have rejected the idea of countywide elections for city urban renewal agencies; people from outside the district wouldn’t be in tune with its priorities because they don’t live there, he said.
Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, introduced two measures, one to require a countywide two-thirds public vote for urban renewal bonds, and the other to add public hearing requirements.
House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, proposed a compromise bill that he’s co-sponsoring with the Meridian Urban Renewal District to make various changes, including requiring a public vote to start a district, setting time limits, and requiring consent from farmland owners before they’re included in a district. Moyle also proposed a separate bill to let any taxing district “opt out” of an urban renewal district when it’s formed.
Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, proposed legislation to require narrow descriptions of urban renewal projects and binding expiration dates, and require unexpended money to be refunded to local taxing districts.
Similar proposals died last year after long hearings in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee; this year, proponents headed instead to the rarely convened House Local Government Committee, chaired by Rep. Lenore Hardy Barrett, R-Challis.
Wednesday was the first time this year that Barrett’s committee has met. Barrett said she’s thrilled to oversee the urban renewal debate and has been upset about urban renewal districts for her entire 18 years in the Legislature.