Sunday, October 10, 2010

Idaho Voters Face Loss of Constitutional Rights

Contributed by Rick Knigge

In 2006, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled in Frazier Vs.The City of Boise that debt beyond one year’s revenue requires a 2/3 assent of the voters. In this case, Boise was attempting to build a 5-story parking garage at the Boise Airport without voter approval. As a result of this ruling, Boise and other Idaho public entities lobbied the 2010 Idaho Legislative Session to get two Idaho Constitutional amendments on the November 2 ballot. If passed, these amendments will abolish voter’s rights to approve or deny debt for publicly owned hospitals and municipal airports. They are HJR4 and HJR5, respectively, on the ballot. Essentially, if these Idaho Constitutional amendments pass there will be no voter oversight of debt—ever; for any amount.

The amendments require all debt to be repaid by revenue generated by the improvements, and the improvements would be held as collateral against the loan, putting the public’s assets at risk. This may sound like a good idea according to the politicians; however, as we have all experienced in the past few years, economic environments change and what’s feasible today may not work for the long-term. If the anticipated revenue does not meet the obligation, banks could foreclose, take ownership of the improvements and dispose of the improvements as they see fit.

Elected officials across Idaho want these amendments to pass. The City of Boise has invested $60,000 to “educate” the public about the airport initiative. The major substantive change is to eliminate public vote. The Idaho Hospital Association is running frequent advertisements to persuade voters to consider HJR4 and they recently doubled these efforts. The fear-mongering ads point to Washington Health Care as giving fewer choices, more mandates and higher costs as the reason for HJR4. These ads are misleading; the reality is this amendment has little to do with Washington Health Care. It is about getting voter approval for Idaho publicly-owned hospital debt. Local politicians across the State would like nothing more than to have full authority to go into debt without the current process of required voter approval. In June, the Idaho Republican Party denounced the HJR5 airport amendment, stating it is one of the most alarming proposals our constitution has ever faced.

It's inconceivable that anyone would abandon their hard-won right to vote, especially if it allows any part of government to go unchecked. Voters have historically approved debt for sound projects and will continue to do so in the future.

Voting NO on HJR4 and HJR5 will keep your Idaho Constitutional rights to approve or deny debt for publicly owned hospitals and municipal airports.

Additional resource material on these proposed Idaho Constitutional amendments and two additional proposed amendments (SJR 101 and HJR7) can be found at:

The Boise Guardian blogsite at: ; click on the constitutional tab on the right side of the page for numerous articles from around Idaho relating to this topic.

Idaho Public TV: - this is a recently-aired program on “Dialogue”, with opposing viewpoints on the amendments.

The Idaho Voter’s Pamphlet:

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