There is a growing awareness in the Treasure Valley business community that public transportation is an important component of both economic success and maintaining a high quality of life. A viable public transportation system provides residents with commuting alternatives, helps mitigate traffic congestion and contributes to a reduction in pollutants in the air.
Though the efforts of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce and other business organizations in the region, the Coalition for Regional Public Transportation (CRPT) was formed in the fall of 2005.
The goal of the CRPT was to develop local funding options for regional public transportation with the leadership of Valley Regional Transit, enlist support from companies, business leaders, chambers of commerce, legislators and other interested community organizations and achieve passage of state legislation.
The CRPT was initially divided into three groups:
The Leadership Group, which met twice - in November and December 2005. The group, co-chaired by developer Chuck Winder and Dan Stevens from Home Federal Bank, included dozens of chamber and business leaders and agency representatives.
The Local Elected Officials Group, which met for the first time on January 24, 2006. This group then combined with the leadership group at its February 17, 2006 meeting. Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas helps co-chair this combined group, called the Joint Leadership Group (to see a list of members, click HERE). This group, which met five times, kept busy exploring transportation funding alternatives and developing draft legislation that would allow ballot referendums seeking voter approval of a local transit tax.
The Joint Leadership Group completed work on its final report and recommendations on October 27, 2006 (see 2007 Idaho Legislative Session section below).
The Community Resource Group - Representatives from various interest groups (such as the elderly and persons with disabilities) will be invited to attend four public information meetings designed to educate attendees about the importance of public transportation in the region, both now and in the future. This is the grass-roots segment of the Coalition and will become active in lobbying state legislators, local officials during the summer, fall and winter months.
In the overall plan, transit providers statewide hoped to get legislation passed during the 2007 legislative session that would give regional public transportation authorities the ability to take a referendum to voters to approve a dedicated local funding source (sales tax) for public transportation. Idaho is one of just a few states that currently cannot do so. The legislation died in committee
To learn more about projected growth in the Treasure Valley, the transit system plans of Valley Regional Transit, and specifics of the draft legislation, click on the first link under Reference Materials Summer 2006 section.
There is a sense of urgency locally to get a local transit tax approved by voters. Under the current federal funding regulations, the amount of federal grant monies VRT can use to pay for operating costs is dropping. For FY 2006 (which ended Sept. 30, 2006) the amount was 50 percent. That percentage dropped to 25 percent for FY 2007(Oct. 1, 2006 - Sept. 30, 2007). The amount dropped to zero beginning October 1, 2007.
Why is this occurring? As an area grows, federal regulations on how grant dollars can be spent become more restrictive. Boise became a large urban area as a result of the 2000 Census (the clock on the funding restrictions did not begin until recently because of a long delay in passing a new federal highway bill, which includes funding for public transportation). VRT anticipates that after the 2010 Census, the Boise/Meridian/Nampa/Caldwell, etc. region will be one large urban area, which will affect federal funds for operations in Nampa/Caldwell.
THE 2007 IDAHO LEGISLATIVE SESSION
After months of discussion and research, the Coalition approved a funding recommendation. Proposed legislation was drafted based on Coalition recommendations. These recommendations included: a simple majority needed for passage; providing for an RPTA to ask voters to approve a one-tenth and one-half of one percent sales tax increase in an initial ballot request; setting a total funding cap of three-quarters of one percent sales tax; any tax for public transit would sunset after 20 years (or until bond obligations are paid off), unless an extension is approved by voters; and citizens could vote on the funding request during the general election of even-numbered years (to ensure a strong voter turnout).
Those "sideboards" to the draft legislation were modified based in large part to further discussions with state legislators. The simple majority requirement for passage became a two-thirds supermajority. Also, the RPTAs could get the proposal on the ballot in May and October of any year.
A print hearing for the proposed legislation was held Feb. 27 before the House Revenue & Taxation Committee. The committee voted to print House Bill 246.
The committee scheduled a merit hearing on HB 246 on March 6, 2007. So many people signed up to testify that committee Chairman Dennis Lake allowed the hearing to continue into a second day. Despite overwhelming testimony in favor of the proposed legislation, the committee voted to keep the bill in committee, thereby killing it for the session.