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Eye on Boise: Bills on urban renewal districts seek to fix management issues

BOISE – The Idaho House has passed four bills designed to trim the authority of local urban renewal agencies, and killed two others.

The two that were rejected: HB 99 from Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, which would’ve required a countywide, two-thirds vote for bonds for a city urban renewal project; and HB 114 from Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, to require a countywide vote to elect city urban renewal commissioners. The House dumped Hart’s bill on a 49-20 vote, and Sims’ on a 43-27 vote.

Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, who opposed both bills, told the House, “It’d take two-thirds of Boise to agree to Kuna’s urban renewal. This is an onerous requirement that will do great damage and probably just flat shut down those kinds of projects that your cities are telling you are so wonderful. It’s just not a good idea.”

The four others, which now move to the Senate for consideration – where their fate is uncertain – include HB 95, which House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, negotiated with his local urban renewal district. It requires an election to form a new urban renewal district; limits the duration and bonds to 20 years; requires written consent from owners of agricultural land before it’s included in a district; requires an annual public hearing on a district’s activities and finances; and prevents expansion of the geographic area covered by a district.

“I think this goes a long way to correct what had been problems in the management of urban renewal districts, and that is the problem in getting the public involved,” said Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls. That bill passed the House 68-0.

The other three measures include one to let any taxing district “opt out” of an urban renewal district (HB 96); one to impose requirements including limiting districts to specific projects (HB 97); and one to add a public hearing requirement (HB 110).

Ah, the pettifoggery

Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, proposed a resolution to repeal the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution last week that was so wildly worded that the House State Affairs Committee voted 13-6 against even introducing it. The 17th is the amendment, ratified in 1913, that authorized the voters to elect U.S. senators rather than have them appointed by state legislatures. Nielsen claimed he worked with Gov. Butch Otter on the wording and that the governor supported it, though the governor’s office wouldn’t confirm that.

Among the choice phrases in Nielsen’s resolution:

“Numerous tyrannies, including, among other things, the imposition of unfunded mandates and the threat of withheld dedicated funds owed the States by either the unresponsive Congress or the arrogant bureaucracy”; “The electoral process for choosing a United States Senator has devolved into a chaos of pettifoggery, populism, bribery, cronyism, demagoguery, outside influences and outside money that unfairly favors the rich or connected”; and “A Senator no longer is responsible to his State, nor to the populace that elected him.”

Nielsen’s resolution also called for convening a meeting of “the several states” in Boise on Sept. 17 to take action if Congress failed to act on the call for 17th Amendment repeal.

Lakes funding cut

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, objected, but the budget set for the state Department of Environmental Quality for next year would eliminate state funding for the Pend Oreille Basin Lakes Commission’s staff and office costs, saving $75,000. “Essentially they’d have to work without staff or find some other source of funding,” Keough said. “I remain somewhat hopeful that … we can salvage some funds, but at the same time, we don’t have any money. Everyone’s taking a hit.”

The DEQ budget cuts 3.4 percent from the department’s state funding and 11.8 percent in overall funds. It does, however, restore, on a one-time basis, funding for water quality monitoring that’s been zeroed out for the past two years.

“That was really a good thing that we were able to scrape together money for that,” Keough said.