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Gov. Little signs bill clamping down on use of urban renewal funds without voter approval

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Idaho Governor Brad Little signed house bill 217 into law Tuesday morning. It will be delivered to the Secretary of State later today according to a spokesperson for the governor.

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The legislation requires a public vote for some projects that use urban renewal funds.

Projects that use urban renewal funds in Idaho would require a vote of the public if more than 51% of the total dollars come from public funds of any type – except federal dollars. The law will take effect on July 1, 2019.

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The update to urban renewal law also requires the public vote to clear a 60% supermajority threshold, but exempts several project types:

  • Projects under $1 million
  • Expenditures for underground improvements like water, sewer and telecom lines
  • Dollars used for streets, roads, sidewalks or parking facilities
  • Any project already underway before the July 1, 2019 date where bonds have already been issued
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[Also read: Analysis: A scramble for stadium & library? Legislation sets up tough choices]

The law specifically calls out “multi-purpose sports stadiums” and municipal buildings, which it defines to include libraries.

The forthcoming law could require a public vote on both a downtown Boise sports park and extensive rebuild of the Boise Public Library as currently construed.

The president of the Boise Hawks told KTIK radio last month as the legislation worked its way through the statehouse that his group would continue to press on with the project.

“It’s a shame that the Legislature and the Governor are so willing to take away tools that allow cities all across Idaho to create jobs and strong economic conditions for their communities,” Boise Mayor Dave Bieter said in a statement provided to BoiseDev. “Consider the most recent expansion of the Boise Centre on the Grove, which spurred huge investment in downtown Boise; or Chobani and Clif Bar’s investment in Twin Falls that created hundreds of jobs in the Magic Valley; or the new Indian Creek Plaza that could help remake downtown Caldwell in the way urban renewal made Boise’s 8th Street Corridor possible – under this new law community investments like these would, sadly, be unlikely to happen.”

City of Boise officials described the bill before passage as a “partisan attack,” according to the Idaho Press, a charge one of the bill’s sponsor denies.

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Don Day
Don is the founder and editor of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow.

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