I grew up in a small town that exploded, faster than Meridian or Caldwell has, and that experience shaped me. I decided I wanted to raise my children in a town that didn’t suffer from such booms. But neither did I want to have them feel the busts.
Idaho is booming now, and it has been for a while. Booms bring burdens. I was amazed to hear a Republican colleague stand up and say on the Idaho Senate floor what I had been thinking for quite a while. We had debated and passed quite a few probusiness and development tax schemes right after the 2008 economic collapse. The goal was to bring jobs and business to our state. Idaho had just cut school funding for the first time in its history and our reserve accounts were depleted. I felt that pain. Growth could solve this. But he stood up and said, “We are promoting growth in this state. I have plenty of constituents who like things just the way they are. What should I be saying to them?”
This last legislative session the senior Representative from the legislative district that has had the most growth proposed and got passed a property tax “solution” that tried to balance this growth conundrum.
House Bill 389 put a cap on what cities could raise their budgets at 8%, and only 5% from new construction. But what if a small city with 300 homes on the edge of Boise wants to add a development of 100 homes? This is happening right now. Housing down there is booming, and some folks have designed ideas that fit their needs and will serve the market. Believe me, the local folks who have worked on this development who now find it unsupportable by these legislative constraints are not happy.
And it’s happening in my town. A new manufacturing business with good jobs and great history will be looking for new employees, so three new 50 home developments are platted and scraping the soil.
We don’t have unlimited water up here on the Palouse. Don’t get me started on the traffic.
But the idea that the Idaho legislature has the solution for local growth problems is hubris. They might as well be suggesting we build a wall.
Growth happens, just as long as more humans are on this planet. It becomes a question of how and whether we should plan for it or not, since the planet won’t be getting any bigger. It should be up to local municipalities to manage their growth, not the whiz kids in the statehouse.
Many small Idaho towns right now are struggling with their infrastructure needs. Some have had to ship water in, others are seeing sewage plants condemned. And most of these small towns haven’t had growth. They drilled their wells and dug their sewage settlement ponds 50 years ago, paying for the expense with a bond. The interest on that loan was added to their monthly fees. They laid the pipes and charged their rates based on the maintenance and debt service, but with little account for eventual replacement. Now, the worn-out plant needs replacement, and the townspeople wonder why they should pay. They won’t get use of a plant after they die or move on.
We are not planning for sustainable growth.
A student in England’s old New College (est. 1379) was sitting around with his buddies in their eating hall and one commented on the old oak beams. “I’ll bet they’re rotten.” A penknife proved it. Where can you get 30-foot oak beams? Another thought of the campus forester.
The old lumberman puffed on his pipe and squinted. “Eating hall? Them oaks are out east.” And he led them to a grove planted and preserved for 300 years.
Boom and bust is no way to lead a state into the future, though, lord knows it’s sure our history.