Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District, Friend or Foe?...

After having received a number of calls and emails regarding the stories in the Idaho Statesman regarding Mr. Brian Bandhauer's plight of the Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District (NMID) wanting to take his property for "Hamburger Money", I had to better understand how this issue got so out of hand, as reported.

I contacted them on Friday to set up a meeting to ensure I had both sides of the story before determining if any action needed to be taken to help resolve perceived outstanding issues.

The NMID was very friendly and set up a meeting for me Monday morning (Dec 24th) so we could go over the issues that were reported as well as to answer any questions that I also had about the district. Daren Coon (District Secretary-Treasurer) who pretty much runs the office in Nampa for the district set up our meeting that included: Monte Janicek (elected Director for the Meridian area), Ron Becker (elected Director for the Nampa area) and John Anderson (District Water Superintendent).

We started out with the issues at hand, the printed stories within the local paper, and I asked them to tell me how we got were we currently are. They explained the situation that is well summarized in their press release below (some papers did publish "parts" of this press release):

"News Release
Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District

1503 First Street South, Nampa, Idaho 83651
Tel: (208) 466-7861 -- Fax: (208) 463-0092
Serving The Treasure Valley Since 1904

Nampa, Idaho
December 21, 2007

The following statement was issued today – Dec. 21, 2007 – by the Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District.

The Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District Board of Directors has reviewed the case of Mr. Brian Bandhauer, the Meridian property owner who has protested the $4.78 in fees associated with his delinquency on District tax assessments for 2006. In order to avoid further controversy and confusion resulting from the Idaho Statesman’s reporting on this matter, the District will waive the late charges so that Mr. Bandhauer's property may be removed from the list of irrigation district tax delinquencies.

The Idaho Statesman’s inaccurate reporting and editorial opinion on this matter highlights the importance of fact checking before going to press. The truth of the matter is not as titillating as the story the Statesman chose to tell at Mr. Bandhauer’s urging.

The District does not “slap” or “take out” liens on the property of any landowner, as suggested by the Statesman. Like property taxes, irrigation district assessments are declared by Idaho statute to be liens upon the assessed real property until the taxes are paid. In the year after the assessment is levied, irrigation districts are required by Idaho statute to file with the county a list of properties that are delinquent in paying assessments. This list includes all delinquencies, not just those from the prior year.

After the District files the delinquency list, delinquent landowners have three years to “redeem” the property from the list by paying the delinquency. As with property taxes, if a landowner has not paid the delinquency, including penalties and costs, Idaho law requires that an irrigation district “must” make a tax deed in favor of the District for the property. This occurs after the property owner is provided notice of pending issuance of the tax deed, and an opportunity for hearing before the district board of directors. The board’s decision to issue a tax deed is subject to judicial review. Even at this late stage, the property owner has an opportunity to redeem the property before it is sold at auction.

The number of delinquencies within Nampa & Meridian is typically around 2,000. The vast majority of these are resolved, so that, annually, only one of the approximately 40,000 tracts of land within the District is sold at tax deed auction.

The District is not “fighting” with Mr. Bandhauer and has not “slapped” a lien on his property to grab his cheeseburger money as suggested in the Statesman editorial. Mr. Bandhauer’s property has been part of Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District since 1904. The land was recently subdivided in 2000. Delinquencies in 2001 and 2004 were all resolved by payment within a year. In fact, the title company involved in Mr. Bandhauer’s purchase of the property paid the 2004 delinquency and 2005 assessment within a week after Mr. Bandhauer purchased the property, which makes Mr. Bandhauer’s ignorance of the assessment all the more perplexing.

Just last month, in November, Mr. Bandhauer sent payment for the 2006 and 2007 assessment with a note indicating that he had discovered the mistaken address. He deducted from his payment the $4.78 in penalties and costs because he assumed the District had made the error. After investigating the situation, the District discovered that the error was in Mr. Bandhauer’s deed, and suggested that he seek reimbursement from the title company that made the error. Mr. Bandhauer’s response was that he would not call the title company over $5, and would instead contact the press.

The result is two articles and an editorial opinion that incorrectly characterize Nampa & Meridian’s actions and motives. We regret Mr. Bandhauer’s course of action, and the Statesman’s reporting on this matter. The District has received numerous disparaging and threatening emails and phone calls, none of which are warranted by this situation.

Nampa & Meridian will continue to work with landowners to resolve delinquencies, following the procedures mandated by Idaho statutes. Nampa & Meridian explains the assessment and delinquency process to landowners through its assessment notices, in newsletters and on its website – www.nmid.org. As part of its response to the Statesman’s reporting on this matter, Nampa & Meridian will review and update those notices in an effort to more effectively communicate with landowners on this issue.

The District will have no further public comment on this matter.

We discussed the current process of customer billing and collections (set by the State code) by the district, how it compares to other districts, their success as compared to other districts and the process for challenging billing. It appears that they do go above and beyond state code with regards to communicating with their customers and prior to the taking of any property deed for auction (that happens in the 3rd year of a customer not paying their bills).

In fact both Mr. Coon and Mr. Anderson related stories about how they, every year, go door to door to ensure that the 3rd year owners on the list for being behind and in line for the Taxing District taking the deed for auction, or tenants of the properties are notified face to face (this not required, but is done after the certified letter is sent as well letting folks know they are behind in their payments). There appears to be plenty of effort involved in trying to communicate with customers that are behind, but mistakes are still made and there is an excellent process in place for challenging those issues via the elected Board of Directors, one just needs to ask.

As far as the process goes, I came away with the feeling that the largest irrigation district in the State is managing their customers properly and within the law... I also learned a great deal about the irrigation district that I would encourage others to also look into.

Most Meridian residents these days live on what used to be farmland (some still is). There are well over a hundred square miles of farmland had water rights associated with those lands that were used to irrigate their fields. The owners of those lands got together in 1904 to form a taxing district where the combined water rights and costs of delivering water could be done for all the owners in the most cost effective way as possible.

In Meridian, the District takes care of providing water via canals and some pressurized systems. They provide the developers with the design criteria for setting up pressurized systems that will be compatible with the water system that NMID manages. After development, these systems are normally then turned over to NMID for management and maintenance. There are still systems in Meridian that are managed by the local home owners association where maintenance and fees are handled in a different manner. The cities of Boise and Nampa each have their own methods of managing the irrigation delivery systems and maintenance of those systems along with the billing for those services.

The district is a not for profit taxing district that puts our district tax Dollars to use in maintaining the canals, pressurized systems and providing communications to customers about their irrigation and to developers with regards to building systems to a base set of standards. I would encourage you to visit their austere offices at 1503 1st S. in Nampa to see how they are spending your Dollars and how they stretch the Dollars they do receive to provide all of us with the irrigation water we use for our yards in the summer and the farmers in the district with the water they need for their crops.

Our NMID Board of 3 Directors is elected on a staggered basis (one new Dir. is elected every year for a 3 year term). The Directors oversee the $2.8M budget that is used to operate and maintain our district's irrigation system. As you might have realized, the system is quickly becoming a system that supports a more urban environment as opposed to it's original design. Our Directors ensure that they review process and procedures so that the district can provide support to all of it's customers in the most efficient and effective way possible.

The NMID has a website, we discussed putting more information on it so that folks might be able to better understand the charter and operations of NMID and it's process and programs that it provides to all of their customers (like being eligible for opting out, giving up your lot water rights or understanding where these tax Dollars are being spent).

I walked away satisfied with the processes in place. People need to take the time to understand the obligation they assume with regards to the NMID when they buy their property and use irrigation water. Everyone has a fair system of rebuttal to deal with any issues they might come across, they just need to ask the folks in the office and follow that advice.

Had Mr. Bandhauer followed the advice of the folks in the NMID office and contacted his elected NMID Director and discussed an option to waive his charges or even discussed the issue with his title company, that made the mistake in the first place that caused the penalty of $4.78, but instead ran to the media for resolution. I'm confident that the process in place would have resolved this issue quickly, effectively and fairly...

Maybe it's good that Mr. Bandhauer and the media created the "fanfare" it did so we can all learn more about the irrigation water that is so cost effectively provided to most of our back yards for a minimal costs to us.

Take the time to call the NMID and ask them any questions you might about have about the irrigation district at 208-466-7861. You will find that Mr. Coons is a wealth of knowledge with regards to how the district works and it's history. They can also connect you with your elected NMID Board Director, tell you if your land is eligible for opting out of the irrigation program or how to opt into the program. Understand that they do have 40,000 customers from Boise to Nampa that they work hard to communicate with via their newsletter (which I hope will soon be printed on their website), letters and press releases about our delivery system.

NMID's website currently has some limited information, but I believe we will be seeing more and more information very soon.

Your thoughts?

Merry Christmas to all...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Roads and the Franklin & Eagle "Lifestyle Center"...

In early November, the Idaho Statesman printed an opinion on the development that will be happening on the NE corner of Franklin and Eagle. They seemed to have a concern regarding the developer paying for the infrastructure improvements in return for payback via lower sales taxes until his investment has been paid off. They questioned if using the recently approved STAR program that allows government and business partnerships for large infrastructure projects was a good deal for Idahoans.

I submitted an opinion piece shortly thereafter that I had coordinated with many other legislators in our valley that were aware of the new STAR legislation and supported it. This legislation, passed in our 2007 session, allows the use of developers funds to build out the infrastructure as part of their development with engineering oversight from ITD. That editorial, although verified by the paper to be valid, has never been printed in the Statesman (but it has in other local publications), so I thought I would share it with you here in the case you didn't see it in any of the other publications that printed it:

"Use of the STAR program is right for Meridian's growth

Recently there has been discussion about the proposed expansion of Eagle Road using the funding mechanism known as STAR. As a member of the Idaho State Legislature who voted for this bill, I wanted to share my thoughts about this funding mechanism, this road widening project, and the subsequent development.

As a funding mechanism, this legislation, which passed the House by a vote of 68-1-1 and the Senate by 24-10-1, is a way to bring needed new money into our road building process. The STAR legislation provides a tool to local officials who may be looking for a way to pay for a needed road improvement.

It requires substantial investment by a single entity - and does not open up coffers to every road project. Yes it does require the developer to be paid back over time. But, not unlike ACHD road projects being built in Meridian, it allows a project to get built by a public/private partnership with a developer fronting the money. This means that we all see the road improvement sooner, for less money, and before the project impacts an area using today's dollars.

Eagle Road is the most heavily traveled highway in Idaho. As North Ada County continues to develop - Eagle, Star, Meridian, and West Boise - Eagle Road will have greater demands placed on it until alternate transportation corridors like Highway 16 are built. With the time frame for Highway 16 still undetermined and the Ten Mile Interchange not scheduled to begin construction until 2009, this project will provide immediate capacity improvements to this roadway.

There are also a number of other benefits that will be a result of the Eagle Road widening and the subsequent development. Projects such as the proposed "Lifestyle Center" are designed to get vehicles off of the road. Rather than driving from store to store to store, they provide an environment where people will go to one place with multiple retailers and amenities to spend their days and evenings. This will reduce trips throughout the valley, help improve our air quality, and save fuel for those who may not wish to travel to other parts of the valley for their shopping needs.

It also brings jobs to the area: over 3,000 construction jobs and an estimated employment of 2,500. This will increase our community's tax base; it will generate sales tax and income tax - items that benefit everyone in Idaho. The property tax generated by this "Lifestyle Center" in the future will have a much larger impact than just the sales tax that is generated.

While the State will receive 40% of sales tax initially, after the funds are repaid the State will collect 100%. We must look at the long-term benefits when examining a project like this "Lifestyle Center" that has such a great return on investment for our State.

As Idahoans we are concerned about sprawl, traffic congestion, quality jobs,
and quality of life. No matter what your views are, we all know that the
property located at Eagle and Fairview would not remain undeveloped forever, with or without road improvements. The current grass fields create little tax revenue for the state. State funded transportation improvement in this area would be years away without this sort of local government and business partnership enabled by the STAR program.

At a time when transportation related matters are at the forefront of issues in the Treasure Valley and before the State Legislature, I am excited to see our efforts to provide alternative funding for transportation projects being put to good use. "

Your thoughts?...

Who's going to feed us?...

Just a quick note regarding some recent information I ran across:

Average age of farmers in America: 55 years old

1 out of 4 farmers are over the age of 65

If we don't encourage more of our next generations to take on the tough job of farming, who's going to feed the world?

Your thoughts?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Info on Studded Tire Damage to our Roads...

It's not hard to find, just Google "studded tire damage" and up will pop a number of studies regarding the damage caused to our highway system by studded tires.

One of many such reports have been done by Washington state that shows clearly the damage that's accomplished by this old technology. I have written previously on this damage after reading reported spending on studded tire costs of mitigation that estimated western states spend between $20M to $50M a year re-lining, re-covering or refurbishing our roadways. Studies from Alaska to California all come to the same conclusion: studded tires are costly to tax payers! Today, while coming back from Marsing, snapped some pictures that I knew I could compare to the study done in WA:

The above picture out of the WA study clearly shows the types of damage from studded tires vs. the damage caused by heavy trucks to asphalt roads.

The following two pictures I snapped today on I-84 between Nampa and Meridian, note any commonality?

(note, the rutted tracks don't match the truck wheels?)

(note how this Pontiac Gran Prix wheel width matches those ruts?)

I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out that we are paying a ton of money re-lining and re-paving our roads every year when their life cycle is being cut to shreds by our continued over use of studded tires. Some folks do need more traction, but those folks are causing a ton of damage to our roads that all the rest of us must pay for.

When we are scratching for transportation Dollars, I have to ask why we have not had a recommendation from ITD regarding either adding a highway maintenance surcharge on studded tires or even limiting the months they can be used. It's time to do something different.

There are alternatives to studded tires that cause much less road damage as well as reduce noise and air pollution (Air pollution? Where do you think all the asphalt and concrete that is worn away goes to? It becomes airborne dust...). These newer technology tires do provide equal or better traction when compared to studded tires. I've used many alternatives to studded tires and actually like them better.

Those that insist on running the little "road grinders" or need them to get around in their area, need to start paying their fair share for the road maintenance that is required due to their choices of winter tires.

Your thoughts?

Lucky or Good Planning and Excecution?

We in Meridian are a very "lucky" lot... Of course Famed basketball coach Bobby Knight defined "lucky" as 95% preparation and 5% opportunity.

I had the pleasure of doing a ride along with the Meridian Police Department this last week to better keep up with what's going on in our district.
What a great bunch of well trained and effective officers we have on our force!
Even though we have a young force, we have quite a number of very talented officers that day and night carry out their daily duties with little fan fare or notice.

It was cold Thursday evening, but it was just another normal evening for the swing shift wearing their stocking caps while arresting a gentleman that was wanted in the state of NV. These men and women commonly respond to domestic calls from lost children to husband vs. wife arguments that just needed a little mediation, to burglaries, control traffic, investigate crimes and provide critical community services.
Raining, snowing, freezing... it doesn't matter, our Meridian PD is out there patrolling, investigating and taking care of things that most of us just don't even realize exist in our little community. It's likely why we don't see much issue with crime in Meridain, these folks nip it in the bud quickly and keep the focus on it to ensure it doesn't get out of hand.

Friday, it appears they were busy with a drug bust of over 90 marijuana plants here in Meridian. Through a joint investigation between the county and our Meridian PD force, they were able to take down a rather large supplier of drugs that had sprung up in the middle of one of our neighborhoods... again, without any fan fare. I'm sure if you asked them about it, they would all just say it's just another day on the job, but probably a day just a little better than others.

We are "lucky" to have attracted such a good crew and I was "lucky" to draw Lt Tracy Basterrechea to tote me around town during his normal patrol. Tracy has been on our force for 11 years and has watched and helped Meridian grow from our sleeping little town to what it is today. He is one of many that provide not only excellent leadership, training and mentoring to other officers, but to our citizens as well when times arise. I really appreciated the opportunity to run with him and the swing shift for an evening, it was nice to be around such a great group of professionals that really act as a team.

These officers train and work hard to be prepared for whatever comes their way... Being "lucky" is not acceptable, it's that 95% preparation that is taken very seriously for that 5% opportunity to take care of the bad guys that come to our town. They work hard in making sure that you and I can safely sleep at night and the kids can play during the day.
Next time you see one of "our guys" on patrol, give them a wave of support... it's the least they deserve from us.
Your thoughts?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

BSU and CWI... A Legislator's take...

Were we are...

It seems we (legislators) have been on a whirlwind ramp up to the upcoming session that starts Jan 7th. Meetings scheduled across all subjects with state, federal and business to review their concerns that "might be" considered in the upcoming session. It's good for us all to attend as many as we can to gain insight on everyone's perspectives.

We had a meeting this morning with the president of BSU, Bob Kustra. The president gave us a great overview of where the funds from last session were spent along with concerns for BSU and Idaho colleges in general.

... My "take-aways"

We tend to get grants from many sources like Micron or the federal government to "cost share" or develop programs, but those grants never seem to be perpetual. We (our state) seems to readily start a number of these types of programs only to end up enduring the long term maintenance and operations costs after the grants fade away...

Don't get me wrong, we've started some fantastic programs at BSU, U of I and the ID State and as the President says, not only do our students gain a great opportunity for education, but the return on investment (ROI) for the state and community is tremendous...

We have a "market share" issue with only ~26% of our Idaho high school grads going to college, we've asked for a parsing out of where the rest of the 74% of our HS students are going...

We always have opportunities to improve things, like a better focusing the Intellectual Property (IP) regarding patents and manufacturing processes that are developed at our State Universities. We need a better statewide focus of the commercial opportunities of this IP, I believe we are "leaving money on the table" after some of these efforts or the IP just floats away.

The U of I has a non-profit foundation that manages the IP developed there, BSU doesn't have a formal program from what I left the meeting with today and I'm not aware of an ID State program to manage IP.

This IP, sometimes developed through grants from agracultural developers, companies like Micron or HP and the federal government where a formal sharing of the IP should be contractually decided as part of the grant agreement. It seems that this process is not well developed, marketed nor is consistent across our State's higher level educational institutions that are likely to develop State IP.

I have communicated with both the colleges that have programs and some grant providers, and again, I believe there is opportunity for improvement for both parties.

Instead of having a non-state manager for the commercialization of this IP, should we consider management by a single state organization? Consider the charter of the Department of Lands, where they are responsible for ensuring the use of a state asset (in this case lands) profits for the benefit of our states education.

Should we have a State IP manager for the same function? Would the Department of Lands be a good fit as an oversight organization to ensure that any financial gain from royalties or the selling of patents gets rolled back into our education system?

Most corporations these days, now have high level management teams to manage corporate IP as an "asset" of the organization and maximize it's return to the company. I believe Idaho could benefit from the formation of such a statewide oversight unit.


A surprise today came with president Kustra's discussion regarding the College of Western Idaho, our newly approved Community College system.

BSU has currently leased some floor space to CWI in the BSU western campus building and BSU will continue to positively consider future expansion requirements for CWI on the BSU western campus. The president is focused on maintaining that campus for it's intended use by those that provided the property and building to BSU.

Many of us were under the impression there would be a transfer of property that would allow CWI a step up to make lower cost community college credits available, it appears that was and is not the case.

The president indicated to us that he clearly believes that CWI will have to increase their levy rate in order to manage the infrastructure required to get the community college going and for ongoing maintenance and build out of that infrastructure.

I believe the voters of Ada and Canyon counties expected that there would be a transfer/sharing of State assets and curriculum from BSU to CWI while keeping the community college levy rates low in order to make more affordable classes available in the Treasure Valley.

It's important that we all work towards that end to meet those voter's expectations.

A Good Brief...

For the short time scheduled and the number of legislators attending, president Kustra and his team put on a very good brief of the state of BSU and issues they are focused on resolving. It's great to see the concentration on our ability to better educate our students in math and science.

As a citizen of Idaho, I take comfort in the president's concern and aggressive actions to correct past issues and attention to issues on the horizon...

We seem to have so many of these types of meetings, it was nice to get down to the details quickly, review the data and have the opportunity to ask questions and ask for more detailed information off-line.

Your thoughts?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tidbits... things that make you say "hhhhmmmm..."

We get a ton of emails, letters, magazines and such and I try to read as much as I can while still keeping up with my work and my "honey-do" lists around home.

Recently, I ran across some information that I thought was very interesting, some puzzling and some that makes you want to just wonder how we got were we are today:

1. An article in the Dec issue of State Legislatures regarding smoking rates. "Although smoking rates have declined over the last several years, 20% of Americans still smoke. And smoking is still the leading cause of premature death in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the estimated costs of smoking-related medical expenses and loss of productivity exceed $167 Billion annually. The 10 states with the lowest rates of adult smoking are: Utah (9.8%, California (14.9%), Idaho (16.8%), Connecticut (17%), Washington (17.1%), Hawaii (17.5%), Maryland (17.7%), Massachusetts (17.8%), Colorado (17.9%) and Texas (17.9%)."

Good for Idaho! Ranked #3 in the nation for the lowest number of smokers. People know it's bad for them, why do they continue to put themselves at risk of being a statistic of "premature death in America"?

2. A very interesting article in the University of Idaho's College of Agricultural & Live Sciences Winter 2008 Programs & People magazine (you might want to consider the title of the magazine as an article in itself!). This article covered an issue that too many Idahoans are just not aware enough of, Poverty in Idaho. The U of I has some excellent programs helping at risk kids and families to "make it" out there on their own. From Bovill to Boise, they have their hands reaching out to help needy families through programs like "Horizons" managed by the UI Extension service.

In Idaho, the poverty rate is determined to be a gross income of $26,856 per year for a family of 4 (130% of the established poverty level). 2004 figures show that Shoshone county has some of the highest poverty rates at 16.3%, Madison at 15.6%, Owyhee at 15.4%, Clark at 15.1% and Cassia county at 14.7% of the population. Ada county has a 9.1% poverty rate or 30,644 people are eligible for assistance.

Good for U of I for stepping up and taking some very positive steps to help out families in need. We all need to work to break the cycle of poverty and it's good to see the state stepping up here.

3. The Department of Health and Welfare's 2007 budget (counting State and Federal Dollars) was in the range of $2.9 Billion (yes that's more than the State's revenue). The population of Idaho being in the generous range of 1.4 million people, that comes to a spending rate of ~ $2070 per man, woman and child in our state. When you read above that the U of I is spending education bandwidth/funds on it's programs as well, one has to ask what is the total cost we are spending to take care of the less fortunate and are we getting our money's worth?

... things that make you say "hhhmmmmmm......."
Your thoughts?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Idaho Youth Conservation Corps?

Well it looks like the summer is officially coming to an end. I see snow up on the hill today, so we will be skiing Bogus soon!

We've had a busy summer around here. From trap shooting with the Paralyzed Vets of America, a 35 mile hike through the Sawtooth’s to attending the Western Legislative Academy and everything in between, I've kept very busy in better understanding the needs and priorities of the folks in our district and our state.

Yesterday we had a meeting with Education Sup. Luna's Chief of Staff regarding the potential of doing a pilot program for an Idaho Youth Conservation Corp. I believe it might be an excellent tool for our educators and local counties to help at risk kids find some work during the summer that would also dovetail into the classroom for them. Programs such as this have really shown good results in helping kids that might be "at risk" or kids in more rural areas to find interests in resource conservation within their own areas.

Having an opportunity to work on projects with Fish and Game, the Forest Service or BLM in our rural areas can show kids that there are jobs and needs within their areas that they can strive for. Provides them hands on experience of the math and sciences they now are studying in school.

Doing studies on game or fish, plants or watersheds while in high school have shown benefit for both the student and the organization that has the project that needs completed. We have projects and the Dept. of Education has a requirement for a Senior Project starting in 2012… we will see if this seed will sprout into something of benefit to all.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Road Less Traveled....

As I was returning to my office this morning from the Urban Land Institute meeting in the Grove Hotel I noticed something. After a full morning of discussions regarding how we are going to fund more transportation infrastructure (i.e. raising this tax or that fee) I suddenly realised that I seemed to be going almost twice as fast going back to the office at 11:00 am than when I came to the meeting at 7:30 am...

We discussed local option sales tax increases of up to 1 cent, increasing registrations, increasing fuel taxes, increasing property taxes... the "increasing" discussions seemed to be never ending. Everyone seemed to have a plan to fix our woes with some sort of increased taxes. We know that we have issues that need to be funded, but it was not until Gov. Otter's Chief of Staff (Jeff Malman) got up and mentioned that we are now also working on how we can better spend the dollars we do have... I know it's easier to just raise a tax here or there and throw money at the issue, but if we are not spending the money we have wisely, aren't we putting a band aid on the real problems?

Getting back to my drive back to the office... why was it that I had a much easier commute back to Meridian later in the day than I had to Boise in the Morning? Well anyone and everyone knows it's because we all need to get to work in the morning and then come home at night at about the same time.

This lead me to think that we might also have "social engineering" issue that compounds our infrastructure issue. Why do we all (repeat... ALL) need to use our roads at the same time? Typically it's due to local business desires to have their folks change shift or start their work day all about the same time.

We do have infrastructure issues that need funding and we are going to have to find those dollars somehwere. Within the mix of "increased tax solutions" that are on the table, shouldn't we consider some "social engineering solutions" as well? Just how much would it cost the state to provide incentives to business encouraging/requiring "flex" hours or a change their shift schedules to times outside of the standard morning and evening commutes? Can we compare this cost of influencing our social behavior to the millions we are talking about spending for (in the Treasure Valley) 4 to 5 hour period each day that our roads are jammed with traffic... ?

As an example, how many people at Micron alone are beside us in traffic the mornings trying to get to work? What if a company the size of Micron were to move their shift change from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm to say... 9:00 am to 9:00 pm? And what if they were to encourage their normal "8 - 5'rs" into a more flexible schedule? That single action alone could take thousands of cars out of the early morning and evening commutes and spread the higher utilization of the roadways over a larger period of time. Less time commuting means less impact on our air quality, better fuel economy and happier drivers.

Employers aren't going to resolve our lack of funding issues, but do play a major role in why we have traffic issues at certain times of every day. I hate to see us pay for and build a huge infrastructure that will only be flexed 4 to 5 hours of every day because we choose to be inflexable in our travel requirements.

We need to put some "social engineering" options on that table to resolve our transportation issues... it's going to take a package of things, this needs to be one that's considered.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Sen. Larry Craig made a bad call...

I hate to say it, but it's true and he is totally aware of that now... and thanks to a tremendous amount of media coverage, so are we.

Here is an Idahoan that has dedicated over 27 years of his life to public service... and he made a "bad call" in the airport when he plead guilty to ridiculous charges in the hopes that the issue would not be blown out of proportion and would go away.

I only spent 20 years in public service in the Navy where I too made a few "bad calls". Calls I wish I would not have made in hindsight, but calls that I still had to live with and recover from while still doing my best at my job.

It always seemed at the time "one bad call" wiped out all those "atta-boys" that were so seldom recognized as it was... Until there was another issue for my peers to focus on, when the "bad call spotlight" would turn and focus on someone else, all the "brew-ha-ha" just seemed not so important to them anymore.

Have we have become a nation of living for what's important only in the next second?...

I can tell you that in my 20 years I moved 21 times and when I retired, I came back home to Idaho $20,000.00 in debt, only with a 1972 Chevy pickup & camper to my name. I spent what most believe are one's "most productive business" years in public service, but I wasn't poor... no, I can't think of a better place to serve, make such a difference, gain life long friends and get such great training for only $1,000.00 per year...

Larry Craig's has not dedicated his "most productive business years" serving the public interest to get rich. I appreciate his initiative and his families sacrifice, even more so now. One doesn't stay that long in public office in Idaho or Washington D.C. without being effective at what he does.

I'm sure he is not a monetarily rich man, he sacrificed that in lieu of other "riches". He has enriched not only his life by his accomplishments, but the lives of all Idahoans through the huge differences he's made in shaping our state and our nation governments over those 27 years. Have we always agreed? No, but I am very grateful for his dedicated service, he stepped up and always did what he thought was best, regardless of the criticism.

I hope he finishes his "tour" and continues to make the best "calls" he can for our state. I am sure that history will treat him well... He is deserving of that, despite "one bad call"...


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

GARVEE, Where we are and How we got here....

Lot's of talk these days regarding transportation problems. Many of us ponder what's going on while we sit on I-84, Eagle road or Meridian road waiting for traffice to move. I think it's important to understand a bit better our transportation funding systems, how it's setup, how/what GARVEE really is and how all of it is managed.

We have a ton of transportation issues in Idaho and have dedicated as much money (a ton) to fix these issues.... I'll start with what I have learned about our Transportation infrastructure support efforts and will readily admit I don't know all the ropes but am on the fast track of learning more each day:

Idaho Transportation Department Funding
(web link here)

Many don't realize the IDT covers all state transportation needs; roads, aeronautics, bike paths and public mass transit. We will focus on the highway funds as this is where the bulk of the funding goes and where the majority of our issues currently are.

Funding for most of this comes from our fuel taxes (.18 fed and .25 state cents per gallon of gas). State taxes along with registration fees are placed into what's called a "Highway Distribution Account" or HDA. For 2008 state budget year (we are in now), the projected funds that are to be placed into the HDA will be ~$333M. From here, funds are sent to various entities as required by the Idaho Constitution: Local highway jurisdictions (county, Assistance Council, Cities and Highway Districts) receive 38% for local infrastructure operations & repairs, Idaho State Police receive 5% for operations and training. The remaining 57% goes to the ITD operations account as general funding.

It should be noted that there are some funds "taken off the top" for things like administration, bridge inspections, rail crossings and fuel tax refunds.

This distribution into the State Highway account is then combined with the federal dollars that we receive back from our .18 cents per gallon we pay. We receive ~$1.34 for every $1 we pay in federal gas taxes back from Washington D.C. due to the diligence of our federal Legislative team. Other states like NY, CA, IL and others receive back less than they pay, and fight for more funds annually... having good folks representing us back in D.C. is critical with regards to these types of arm wrestling matches. Without the strong positions that we have now, we are at risk of loosing much of this funding.

The federal funding (~$300M) combined with some other misc. funding will bring the State Highway Account to ~$525M for the 2008 that ITD uses to manage operations and maintenance costs of our infrastructure. Every year, the State Legislature looks at how ITD proposes to spend these annual funds to approve/disapprove dollars spent on various targeted projects. The objective is to ensure the "people" have a say in where we get our "bang for our bucks" through the checks of the legislative process.

Every year, internal ITD infrastructure upgrades are a part of this budget. We must ensure that the department charged with obligating the annual funds and getting "asphalt on the roads" has the capability to do just that.

Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle (GARVEE)

The GARVEE program is a legislatively approved authorization to sell "bonds" (a way of borrowing money) to fund for special projects up to $998M. The first year of approved Idaho GARVEE bonding was in 2006 (for the remainder of 2006 and 2007 year's budget) where $200M was authorized by the legislature for bonding.

This obligated the state to use State Highway Account funds to match currently available federal funds to pay off the interest due to the bond holders over the terms of the bonds. The objective of using GARVEE is to "borrow" funds where it makes sense to purchase items for infrastructure growth that you know will increase in cost over time. Return on Investment (ROI) must "pencil out" or be deemed as a "good investment" for the people of the state before bonding (borrowing) is authorized.

An good example of GARVEE use, would be for the purchase of easements for new roads or interchanges. With the increasing costs of land, it's wise to plan early in purchasing those easements as far in advance as planning allows. (preliminary planning is required prior to any GARVEE bonding request just to understand how much bonding is required).

We all should realize by now, that pretty much the cost of everything increases over time (unless we can figure out a way to start buying pre-made highways from Wal Mart... ;-) ), so using the reasoning of "we need to buy it now because next year it will cost more" really would be abusing the tool as it is intended. The interest payments on these bonds obligates future funds from our State Highway Account that our children will be counting on for their future transportation maintenance and construction costs. We don't want to get ourselves in a position of using more Highway account dollars to pay interest vs. putting down or repairing hard-pack!

It's therefore crucial that we wisely consider every recommended use of GARVEE bonding at all stages of it's authorization. It's "ROI" and it's long term impact on our state's Highway account's ability to provide for future critical infrastructure needed for generations to come must "pencil out". Questions must be asked if "this is the only way" to accomplish this project. GARVEE is a good tool to use for future infrastructure, but is not a tool intended for general infrastructure maintenance or building where general State Highway account dollars are intended to be used, we could end up robbing from Peter to pay Paul...

We are now betting that we will always receive our $1.34 per $1 in fuel taxes sent to the feds back into our account to cover the cost of the bonding interest payments... how long that will last is any one's guess, but my bet is not much longer. Almost all states in the nation are now in a highway "funding crunch" due to many factors. The biggest is the increased fuel economy of cars. More road miles driven on less fuel means less taxes paid to the states and to the feds for infrastructure upkeep and build out. The available federal highway funds will continue to have more and more pressure applied to help out all 50 states, that availability of future funds for the next 10 years are questionable at best. Some say 2010 is the year the funds will go upside down, having more costs than revenue available.

We are now at a critical juncture of what to do next: do we cut back on our infrastructure costs or increase our taxes to cover the costs we currently have identified? I believe we need to do a little of both. We have an ITD internal infrastructure that needs some self evaluation on how and why it spends what it spends. Almost every year the legislature approves funds for "technology" upgrades for all departments that will "allow us to do more with less"... but we never seem to get to the "less" part?

Every organization needs a periodic "self look", "houseclean" or "evaluation"... whatever you would like to call it, it's time for a good look at our internals. A good look would really go a long way in gaining back lost credibility of a department known for being an organization looking for, finding and executing programs with the people's money that got the "biggest bang for the buck".

Where are we now...

We are told by ITD that we are behind ~$250M per year in spending due to costs going through the roof across the board. Our ITD sites some excellent examples of these increased costs on various projects around the state and also provides examples of less funds per miles driven coming into the HDA. Considerations for better engineering and materials used over the years are not included in any documents I can find. One would think that pavement laid today would be better/stronger than that of 20 years ago and would be expected to last longer as well. One would consider better safety designs in both cars and trucks and our newer infrastructure would be reducing damages that should also reduce needed repairs. I do believe we are behind in funding for infrastructure, but I'm not convinced that the currently published numbers tell the whole story.

In March of 2006 Gov. Kempthorne's office brought the first GARVEE bill before the House asking for $998M total to be allowed authorized for the "Connecting Idaho" project. This was approved as was $200M bonding authority for 6 specific road projects (two of which were: $70M for I-84 from Caldwell to Meridian ,and $13.9M for resurface/widening of I-84 from Orchard to Isaacs Canyon). This bonding authority was approved above the standard $500M+ of the ITD annual Highway Account budget (bill H0854) for a total of over $700M for the remainder of 2006 and 2007 (GARVEE) bonding.

One year later (in March of 2007) when ITD brought the second GARVEE bill before the House, the full $200M of the initial "selling" of 2006 bonds had been completed. The state (out of the ITD annual 2006 State Highway Account) paid ~$700k in bond matching funds interest, while only obligating (spending) ~$51M of the $200M in the 12 months from the initial approval.

There were a number of questions as to why the remaining funds from the bonds had not been obligated and the summary conclusion was ITD was overwhelmed by the amount of money/work required for obligation of those funds. They then contracted with Washington Group International to "help them manage the projects and funds".

As of March of 07, legislative research found that the $51M that had been obligated was for "soft" goods like studies, planning and administration. Not a dollar had yet been spent on the ground, and there was still $149M in the "bank" that couldn't be spent for easement or other items because there just weren't enough "hands moving in unison" to make it happen.

With ITD still having $149M in hand that was not yet obligated to put roads on the ground (that interest was being paid on), there were some very hard questions being asked by the legislature of ITD and WGI; with regards to the rates being paid to WGI for "management assistance", when something "hard" was going to hit the dirt and what were the intentions with the remaining $149M that we were obligated to pay interest on.

In April of 2007, when the Legislature was being asked to authorize yet another $250M in bonding authority for the 2008 ITD budget, there were grave concerns with regards to having the ability to obligate, moderate and control such funds. Sighting the example of the first $200M that couldn't be spent to that date from the 2006 authority on transportation projects worried many Legislators. The 2007 bill (H336) asking for $250M more bonding authority was finally passed with many restrictions on just when the bonding could be completed and for what.

I truly believe that none of us in the House are of the mind that extra money doesn't need to be spent to upgrade our infrastructure, most of us are more concerned that we don't have an internal infrastructure in place to spend the kind of money that we have already thrown at the problems. This lack of ability costs us interest out of our annual Highway Account to pay on the bonds already authorized. Might we be able to spend this interest money better elsewhere in the system. It also costs us in having to "purchase" infrastructure to help obligate these funds.

As an example, the 2007 H0336 bill authorized to transfer up to $7M to pay the debt service (interest) on the GARVEE bonds issued thus far. As we increase our GARVEE bonding, we are obligating ourselves to pay more and more of the interest on these bonds from the future tax dollar revenues that we are dependant upon for our future transportation obligations and needs (again, our children's transportation infrastructure money).

Where do we go next...

Today I had the pleasure of joining Gov. Otter, ITD, local legislators and others involved in our GARVEE projects at the Isaacs Canyon overpass on I-84. The objective was to kick off the widening/resurfacing project that was authorized and signed by Gov Kempthorne in April of 2006... 17 months from the time of authorization to "kick off" of a $13.9M project that we are paying interest on... is just frustrating.

I received a letter today from our ITD District 3 Commissioner that another GARVEE bonding will be proposed to the Governor to include in his budget for the legislature in 2008 for $134M. This will include over $60M of additional funding needed for the Meridian 10 Mile Interchange project. I am not yet aware of what the remaining bonding will be requested for.

Currently the only way, I am aware of, for funding the remainder of the 10 Mile project is GARVEE. I've recommended to the ITD Commissioners and ITD a back-up plan...

We must get 10 Mile done next year for the safety of our citizens and economic growth of our city. In case the Governor or the Legislature decides we are "far enough out on this GARVEE limb" and doesn't approve the new bonding, we must have a backup plan for completion.

Your thoughts?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Has the Chairman of the Idaho Republican Party fallen ill?

I received a letter Saturday from Mr. J. Kirk Sullivan, the Chairman of the Idaho Republican Party discussing his activities regarding the issue of Closed Primaries. I feel compelled to comment here because I have no idea of how widespread this letter went within the Party and wish to comment on some of the statements within that letter.

In Mr. Sullivan's letter, he continues to state HIS personal position regarding closed primaries (a "dog that no longer hunts" after Party decisions are made) and seems to "forget" that, as the Chairman, he is to represent the wishes of the party and carry out the direction of the decisions of the Central Committee and he "forgot" that the Executive Committee does not make policy decisions, such as resolutions, for the Party, but are charged with carrying out those decisions and resolutions that are provided them.

He also seems to have "forgotten" that the decision to close the primary for Republican candidates happened at the Party meeting in mid-2006. He also seemed to "forget" that I and others ran a number of versions of legislative bills starting early during the 2007 legislative session to try to change the code to meet the Party's Closed Primary requirements (the same bills he covertly worked against in both the House and Senate). He seemed to have "forgotten" that the legislature had a chance during that session to do the right thing and change our state laws to accommodate various party primary election requirements in this last 2007 session knowing if it did not happen in the 2007 session, a lawsuit would likely be filed.

Unfortunately, Mr. Sullivan also seemed to have "mis-read" the subsequently expected lawsuit that had been filed by a number of Party members, requesting their "right to freely associate" be upheld in Idaho. His understanding and statement that it also listed the Republican Party as one of the plaintiffs, which it never did, was just wrong. In fact, Mr. Sullivan seems to have "forgotten" that he sent a letter to the Plaintiffs attorney re-iterating the fact that the Party was not to be listed.

It concerns me greatly that the Chairman of the Idaho State Republican party could "forget" so many of these things and then "mis-state" them so badly in his letter to party members when he has been so deeply involved in each and every step of the process regarding these needed changes to the state's primary election system.

Through analysis of all of these actions, one must conclude that Mr. Sullivan is carrying out an agenda that differs from the Party's selected direction or he must have some health concerns that are impairing his memory.

While I would never wish to impede on Mr. Sullivan's personal life, I would hope that if it's agenda related, he step back and consider if he is capable of carrying out the direction of the majority's wishes and take the appropriate corrective action to represent the Party as he is charged. Or, God forbid if it's health related, I hope he will seek the proper medical attention for those "memory" issues that seem to be impacting his judgement and leadership and to ensure his continued good health.

Remember, the old saying for us men, "Memory is the second thing to go"...


Those that have followed this Blog know that I am not a big fan of completely closed primaries, and would prefer a modified closed primaries where the Party could choose to allow Independents to vote if they wished. I believe it is important for a party to have a choice on how they select to run their elections. But the majority of our Party choose to run a closed Primary in 2006, so that's the direction we should be going.

I am a big fan of proper representation, regardless of the organization. Leaders are elected or appointed in our governments and non-governmental organiztions to represent the ideals of that organization to enties of impact to that organization.

If someone is charged with representing an organization of people, then regardless of that person's personal agenda, it is that persons responsibility to carry out that task to the best of their ability. Once the "team" has decided in a direction, it's incumbent upon the "team's" selected leader to drive that direction until the task is completed or that direction is modified.

With that responsibility comes accountablility and, in this case, I believe both seemed to have fallen short of being carried out.


Tidbits: Dog Fighting, Family and taxes...

...It was right after the Mike Vick case hit the airwaves that my email filled up and my phone started ringing off the hook. Many of our Meridian folks wanted to ensure that Idahoans sent a strong message to those sponsoring dog fighting or contemplating it, that it is an activity that will not be tolerated here.

During all my conversations, we all agreed that it's a sickening activity. After reading through all of the Idaho code that would be applicable to dog fighting, it appears that all of the code that could be used by our state prosecutors were considered misdemeanor crimes. Fines and jail time varies with the many statutes that could be used, but more importantly was the fact that as a misdemeanour, an Idaho prosecutor is stopped at the boarder when trying to bring someone charged before an Idaho Judge. A change to a felony would allow those charged and running into another state to be extradited back to Idaho for trial.

In mid July, I worked with the Legislative Services Office to draft legislation making this activity a felony. I also learned that Rep. Tom Trail from Moscow had worked some years previously on the same issue so I called him to compare notes and understand why his previous attempts to make this type of activity failed to get to the floor for vote. We agreed that we needed to work together to fix this issue and send a clear message to those contemplating starting or attempting to operate a dog fighting operation here in Idaho just won't be tolerated. We currently have the legislation before that AG for review to ensure we are not causing any other issues not intended by the proposed changes to code.

...The Family Task Force that was created by Speaker Denny will be meeting in Idaho Falls on the 30th for our first round of speakers (hopefully) helping us gain insight regarding the impact of broken families and any corresponding increased cost to state taxpayers. We will try to understand any association between the decline of the "traditional family" and increased costs in heath and welfare, prison systems and other state operations and programs. Our hope is to better understand the issues that are contributing to the increase of broken homes and help target funding that could be focused on increasing the ability of families to stay together and raise healthy kids. Our next meeting will be in Boise on Sept 24th for more hearings from folks in this area.

...It appears that there have been some issues at the Idaho State Tax Commission regarding completing our state tax income tax forms. They are behind because of some internal issues and are working hard to overcome the backlog of income tax returns yet to be completed. If you are due a refund and have not yet received it, this is likely the reason. Contact the Tax Commission toll free at 1-800-972-7660 or 334-7660 in the Boise calling area or on their website for more information regarding your individual return.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Closed Primaries... again

I have to comment once more (last post in June on the Closed Primary here) on the reason for a change in the state laws for holding the Primary Elections.

I read the humor in Rep. Brandon Dusrt's opinion in the Statesman justifying the Idaho Democratic Party's Presidential Caucus reasoning (instead of allowing all state Democrats to select their preference in a regular Primary). Rep. Durst correctly points out "in an IDP presidential caucus you are required to publicly support one candidate. In a primary, your decision is private." So why is this IDP Caucus better than a Primary where everyone has the ability to vote privately for their choice of the candidate to represent them in the General Election? A Caucus is normally done to ensure better control over WHO will be chosen (through peer pressure), not that it is done fairly or accommodates the desires of all of that party's voters.

He states "The IDP presidential caucus is privately funded", so who ensures that there is a fair and unbiased selection of Presidential candidates in a "privately funded" caucus? The State Primary Election process has rules that must be followed that ensure a fair and just process is provided for the public to ensure their votes count.

The the Republican Party voting to close their Primary Election process is exactly the same thing the Democrats have done in their national Presidential Primary process, just a few years later than the Democrats did. The Republicans also considered a "Privately Funded Caucus" to select their candidates, but that was voted down in consideration of an accepted fair and unbiased State Election process that the citizens of Idaho already pay for and trust.

Holding a type of restricted, "members only" Primary to select a party's candidates for the General Election in the fall has been found to be a right that is afforded to that party and it's members (regardless of who's party) by the Supreme Court. There have been numerous changes in the ways the Parties have selected their candidates in Idaho's history and changes will continue by all of the Parties as time goes on.

The REAL issue here is our State's laws regarding Primary Elections are not flexible enough to accommodate these past or future changes. Those laws should be able to accommodate a selection process that will ensure a fair and just election and appropriate voter safeguards ensuring that their vote counts when they exercise that right.

Ensuring that "every vote counts" should be something that every Party takes a serious interest in, not just the Republicans, as shown by 71 party members recent actions to fix the system now through the judicial process. The Party members (not the Party) have filed suit in Federal court to force the state to change it's laws allowing the closed process the Party has selected.

This issue seems to have been overlooked by many, like Rep. Durst, of those that focus on "this method" or "that method" of holding the Primary selection of that Party's candidates for the General Elections (where all are allowed to vote for the candidate of their choice in secret regardless of party affiliation).

Rep. Labrador wrote an excellent piece in the Statesman regarding this issue and why changes in State laws are needed. Many of us worked hard last session trying to educate those of both Parties in the needed changes to close the loopholes in our state laws. There are activities like "Strategic Crossover Voting" that occurs discounting legitimate public votes.

Both Parties now recognize these loopholes with some of the Republicans finally coming on to request changes in the Idaho State Primary Election process. The Democrats recognized the issue many years ago and instead of fixing the issue, decided just not to use the state process for their Presidential selection process... thus leaving a very large number of their Party voters without an opportunity to vote in that selection process.

Now instead of the Legislature changing the laws to accommodate the Party selection process, we will likely have a Federal Judge forcing that change and the Legislature focused again on those needed changes in the 2008 session. The last changes were done in 1972 and many Supreme Court findings have happened since those changes... it's time to update our process like over 30 other States have done.

All Parties should welcome this change to ensure that fairness and legitimacy are brought back into our Primary Election system encouraging more voter participation.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Mass Transit in the Treasure Valley...

A number of us from the Legislature in the Treasure Valley were invited to attend a briefing in Salt Lake last Monday regarding how their mass transit system has evolved. My intention was to learn costs per person, state funding, subsidies required and ongoing costs for maintenance and how that is managed.
The Treasure Valley Compass leaders ensured that we all met the major players in Utah that have been involved in setting up the transit system, expanding it and maintaining it. The Compass folks did a great job in ensuring that we got our questions asked and have promised to work with Utah in getting some of the data we requested.
There is no question that the public transportation system in Salt Lake is top of the line. They have a combination of bus, tram and light rail. Their system was originally started on a shoe string (much like the Valley Regional Transit Authority now), but was boosted through federal earmarks (around $500M if I recall correctly) and local option taxes of the six surrounding counties to Salt Lake of between 1/2 cent to 3/4 cent sales tax that is collected through the state. Utah has had local options taxes for quite sometime so you will find various sales tax rates throughout the state.
Utah's system thus far has cost the tax payers (both federal and state) approx. $1.5 billion dollars. The est. population in the six counties footing the bill (less federal earmarks) is approx. 1.2 million folks (just slightly less than the entire state of Idaho).
Inceases in local option taxes have been happening since the system was started, most run as a referendum that was done on a "quick sale" sort of effort by engaging with the public on the requirements shortly (within 4 weeks) before the vote was required. Their strategy was to ensure that any opposition would have little time to organize and coordinate an opposing view before votes would be made (sound familiar?) and worked absentee ballots hard as well to ensure passage of the increased tax.
No doubt that Utah's mass transit system is top of the line, however, I see no way that 500,000 people in the Treasure Valley would pony up the money for such a convenience.
One lesson that did hit hard was that Idaho must start early in purchasing easements for ANY kind of transportation planning, regardless if that's public trams, trains or roadways... it needs to be planned and purchased as early as possible. Land prices just continue to go up, waiting for "tomorrow" to purchase property for a bypass or a commuter train is just not smart business.
I appreciated being invited on the fact finding tour, I learned a lot. Utah started planning and funding these transit systems well before it was announced that they would be getting the Olympics, much to our surprise. I suspect that because they did invest in such a system, that it did bode well for their selection by the Olympic selection committee.
Idaho has transportation needs from city streets to the freeway, from buses to walking trails. We are going into debt now through GARVEE to get some of the issues corrected and, as I'm sure you've heard, we are still "$200M per year"short. We need to get creative, change the way we do day to day business in the way to manage our transit systems. I've posted some ideas previously (click here to read them) that we need to consider. Is it time to raise gas taxes, registration fees, fund transportation needs with General Funds or change our habits?
We don't have the answers or the money... do you?
Drop me a note at Marv@thg-inc.biz

Movie Night in Meridian!...

If you haven't had a chance to attend with your family, you should! Meridian Parks and Rec are putting on a special movie night once a week at Settler's Park (Meridian & Ustick). It's a great time, families throwing a blanket on the "mini-hill" in the park to watch the "Big Screen" just like a drive-in, but without the cars. Some bring lawn chairs and some just grab a piece of grass and watch the movie.

There is a concession stand with very reasonable popcorn, pop and water for you enjoyment as well. This is a great place to bring the kids in the evening to play on the new playground or maybe frolic in the water features... this park was very well done, one Meridian residents can be very proud of.


Thursday, July 5, 2007

Independence, it's What Makes Us Americans...

There was a time in N. America when "Independence" was really only a dream. During the parade yesterday in Boise I was reminded by the Veterans lined on the sidewalks in their uniforms, wearing their DAV (Disabled American Veterans), ship and unit ball caps who have defended that freedom that we all now enjoy.

Independence... what a concept. We were lucky enough to have forefathers that put their lives on the line against England to fight for our "Independence" from their governance. As we all know, that fight was won and not without cost of the lives of some of those brave men and women.
That freedom to choose where we want to live, how we want to worship, who we want to represent us in our own government is not something that just happens, it's earned and protected again and again every day by someone. Veterans, Police and Firemen all help protect those independent freedoms that most of us take for granted all too often.
We are a very fortunate country to have Brothers, Sisters, Dads, Moms, Sons and Daughters that continue to carry on the American tradition of volunteering to defend those hard earned freedoms that we still enjoy today.

I hope you enjoyed a Happy Independence Day on the 4th of July and took a quick minute to think about those that fought for and have protected it for the past 231 years... without them, we wouldn't be Americans.



Saturday, June 23, 2007

Global Climate Change... Could your "Carbon Footprint" be off the hook?

Using the Internet that Al Gore "created", I ran across an interesting series of well founded articles on "Global Climate Change" completed by Dr. R. Tmothy Patterson, a professor and director of the Ottawa-Carleton Geoscience Center, Department of Earth Sciences at Carleton University in Canada.

Canada is extremely interested in forecasting what the weather is going to do with regards to Canada's ability to feed their population through their national focus on farming and providing for themselves (self sufficiency). Much of Canada's farming belt is very close to the freezeline where farming just won't exist were that freezeline move too far south.

Dr. Patterson has taken many studies based on recent scientific studies performed since 2002 and put together a time line of climate change with overlapping information based on findings from studies showing why and when the climate changed in history.

The outcome of this multi-study overlay is very interesting, here is a paragraph out of some very easy reading of his summary:

"In a series of groundbreaking scientific papers starting in 2002, Veizer, Shaviv, Carslaw, and most recently Svensmark et al., have collectively demonstrated that as the output of the sun varies, and with it, our star's protective solar wind, varying amounts of galactic cosmic rays from deep space are able to enter our solar system and penetrate the Earth's atmosphere. These cosmic rays enhance cloud formation which, overall, has a cooling effect on the planet. When the sun's energy output is greater, not only does the Earth warm slightly due to direct solar heating, but the stronger solar wind generated during these "high sun" periods blocks many of the cosmic rays from entering our atmosphere. Cloud cover decreases and the Earth warms still more."

For the full summary of the study, click here: Read the Sunspots... (it's a quick and easy read with all the links available to the a series of articles and studies if you want to continue to dig into the results to validate the study)

Does this mean the "Hummer" off the hook? Well, it's very possible since this overlay of studies also explains why climate change on Mars seems to correlate to the sun's output of solar winds and the Earth's climate changes as well. Don't take this out of context, it's not saying it's going to solve the cost of a barrel of oil or resolve the fact that "change" happens, but it is an excellent explanation of what is happening to our planet and why. Leaders have an obligation to understand factual information to make good decisions for their constituents, regardless being business or government.

I would hope that Al and his followers would use his new invention (the Internet) to update his "the science is settled" movie in influencing the people of the planet to think that purchasing and menipulating "carbon credits" might be something they need to do... while he puts more and more money in his pocket with his involvement in selling carbon credits.

My Dad taught me that a salesman is a person that convinces you that you have a problem and then sells you something to solve it, while a GOOD salesman is a person that works to understand your needs and works to match his product to your requirements. Al Gore is a salesman, and not a very "GOOD" one...

The climate is changing, as it has always done, but likely not because of "your carbon footprint" that we have been "convinced" is a problem we "have" to solve.... and as the climate changes, humans and animals adapt as they have also always done....

Just my two bits,

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Life Lesson #4,386,297... "Weldburn"

Welding... don't do it in shorts!

Nothing political here, just one more of those humorous "life lessons" we all learn through time about those little things that will come up and bite you.

Was out in my shop the other day working on beefing up the stand for my grinder and needed to weld an old tire rim I had to the base of the stand for more weight. I laid the grinder stand down on the floor, welded on the rim and was pleased with the results... until I got home that night.

I learned that the UV rays from welding gave me one heck of a sunburn on the inside of my legs while I was squatting down over the job! I guess I should be thankful my Carhartt shorts weren't that baggy!

... Time to use the results of Life Lesson #487 (falling asleep while inner-tubing down the St. Joe River as a kid): Aloe and aspirin...


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Consolidation of Idaho Elections...

I recently received a letter from a concerned and upset citizen of Meridian regarding our elections. She was livid, as were many, about the fact that there were 3 local elections and all three had different election voting locations and one was on a different day than the other two. The elections I'm referring to were the Community College, a school bond and a new Library bond... and the voting process for each were held in different locations and 1 of the 3 on different days within a couple weeks!

While I was voting in the Library during that bond election, a gentleman came in and really dressed down the ladies working the election regarding why "they" were doing it again and not letting anyone know about the bond election AGAIN.

He was telling them that "because the last one failed, they were trying to pull a fast one and getting only those who were for the new bond to vote by only letting them know". I hung around to make sure that the gentleman didn't get out of hand with the ladies and wished that this type of thing wouldn't happen... but I'm afraid it does and has all over the state. Folks are getting frustrated and apathetic towards a system that doesn't seem to represent or reflect their desires. Sadly, this apathy causes fewer and fewer of us to go to the polls...

It appears that it's just too easy to keep "pushing the bond" almost monthly until people are so tired of seeing it (or don't know about the election) that it seems only 3 people show up for the vote, when 2 of the 3 vote aye, it's then passed for the rest of the tax payers to pay for.

House Bill H0040 would have required a mailing to every property owner regarding the proposed tax details and cost to that property owner allowing them to understand the cost to benefit of the upcoming election. This bill didn't make it out of Committee, so was not heard on the floor.

Senate Bill S1243 will require only new taxing districts to notify property owners of the all the details and full cost of the new taxing district for a reasonable chance to understand the cost to benefit of the newly proposed tax. This bill becomes effective on July 1st of this year, any votes prior to this bill becoming law, the promoters of that election were not required to supply all of the information to the property owners prior to the election (the rush on the Community College election comes to mind here...)

People are getting tired of not knowing about the bond elections or any elections that might be planned that will impact their property tax or who represents them on a local board. It's very common for local special elections to happen while only advertising the election to a focused group.

In the 2007 Legislative session, this was recognized and tackled with minimal success. House bill H0196 was passed in the House that would have consolidated all of the elections to two days per year and limited the number of elections that could be scheduled per year. Recognizing that when a bond election fails, it seems to take little time for supporters to get another scheduled, this bill required that limits were placed on these types of elections. If you take a look at the bill, you will be able to see the details of the changes, but for a summary look at the bottom of the bill.

H0196 was sent to the Senate for discussion and vote, but was put in a drawer and left there....

Arguments against the bill were that districts like sewer, water, irrigation, schools and others would have to move their place of election and coordinate with the Secretary of State in scheduling their bond elections. And it was argued that the timing of the elections would not work with the timing of the districts scheduled budgeting process... in my mind these seemed to be weak arguments for maintaining the current system.

All elections cost money, our state currently has a good and fair process for holding elections via the Sec. of States office who has all of the equipment to properly hold elections. We should enable the Sec. of State to help educate folks on elections impacts and costs to all citizens. Consolidating elections would reduce our state and local government costs, increase voter participation in ALL elections held to ensure proper numbers of folks are represented during those elections.

It is sad that a good bills like H0196 gets placed on the back burner and not even considered in the Senate. I'd recommend you take a look at this bill and let your local Representatives and Senators know your feelings about it. I'm convinced it will come up again, it just makes too much sense....