Boise bonds campaign attracts cash

As of Oct. 21, supporters of the measures had spent most of the $216,000-plus they had received.

sberg@idahostatesman.comNovember 2, 2013 

  • Where there’s smoking...

    One of the mailings supporting the bond measures didn’t sit well with a Boise woman.

    The flier shows a man dressed in a classically styled suit smoking a pipe. A quote bubble reads, “Usually it’s illegal to vote twice!” — a reference to the fact that supporters want people to vote “yes” on both bonds.

    Jean Hartman said featuring the pipe contradicts the campaign’s advocacy for a “quality of life that’s healthy, prosperous and safe” in Boise.

    “Then (you) show an adult sitting there with tobacco in his mouth,” Hartman said. “To me, that’s wrong.”

    The flier was supposed to be funny, not promote smoking, said Shelby Scott, who’s helping run the campaign.

    “I apologize that it made (Hartman) feel that way,” Scott said. “It got people’s attention, which is great.”

  • BOISE BONDS: THE BASICS

    The two bond measures on the ballot would allow the city to borrow almost $33 million.

    One bond would authorize $17 million in debt for construction of a new fire training facility and upgrades to four fire stations.

    The other bond would set aside $10 million for open space purchases and $5.5 million in new and improved Central and West Bench parks.

    Businesses and homeowners would roughly split the cost of repaying the bonds, according to the city of Boise. If both measures pass, the owner of an average Boise home — valued at $184,000 — would pay an extra $12 per year in property taxes. A business with $1 million in taxable property value would pay an additional $132 per year, according to the city.

    The total cost of repaying both bonds, interest included, over 20 years would be more than $50 million.

    Both measures require a two-thirds majority to pass.

After her success in May’s Greater Boise Auditorium District election, 23-year-old Shelby Scott took on a tougher campaign: convincing Boise voters to raise their own taxes.

Scott helped reshape the auditorium district’s board of directors when two of the three candidates she worked for knocked off incumbents. Success this time will mean two out of three ballots cast in favor of two separate bond measures. The bonds would allow the city to borrow more than $32 million for new and improved parks, open space purchases, upgrades to four fire stations and a new fire training facility.

If she fails, it won’t be because of a lack of money.

The Yes! Yes! for Boise campaign, which Scott and fellow independent contractor Tom Hamilton are running, paid almost $10,000 for a 30-second video promoting the bonds.

The campaign also paid more than $5,000 to Washington, D.C.-based strategist Hilltop Public Solutions, which helped shape the campaign, and at least $8,300 to lobbying firm Strategies 360, according to Boise election records. The Strategies 360 payments were for help designing mailers, Scott said.

Spending in excess of $200,000 ranks up there for a Boise campaign, but it’s not unprecedented. In their 2007 mayoral race, Dave Bieter and Jim Tibbs raised more than $300,000 between them.

THE CONTRIBUTORS

Some of the biggest players in Boise’s business community are backing the bonds.

The biggest cash contributors are ESI, the company that’s building the 8th and Main tower Downtown, and Gardner Property Holdings, sister to the company that owns the building. Those companies each contributed $15,000 in August. Babcock Design Group, which designed 8th and Main, gave at least $5,000.

“We do a lot of this sort of stuff when we believe in it,” Gardner COO Tommy Ahlquist said. “I think (the bonds are) going to do a lot of good. It has everything to do with the community.”

Republic Services, which collects garbage for the city of Boise, gave $5,000 to the cause. So did CH2M Hill Engineers and St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center.

Hayden Beverage Co., Syringa Networks and The Grove Hotel each gave $2,500. Stein Distributing contributed $1,000, as did Mountain West Bank, commercial real estate broker Thornton Oliver Keller, Challenger Productions, architecture firm CSHQA and D.L. Evans Bank.

At least four unions — Idaho State AFL-CIO, the International Association of Fire Fighters, Professional Firefighters of Idaho and Boise Fire Fighters Local #149 — gave a total of $8,750.

“It just really speaks to the support that we’re finding in the community,” Scott said of the contributions. “I mean, we’re getting it from individuals, small businesses, large businesses.”

THE OPPOSITION

No broad, organized or well-funded effort to fight the bonds has materialized, though a few prominent Boiseans have announced their opposition. Mike Tracy, former spokesman for U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, sent out postcards recently that encouraged anyone who’s a “fellow Republican” to vote against the bonds and 20 years of interest payments that would add more than $18 million to the bonds’ cost.

“Make no mistake — This is a big property tax increase!” Tracy’s postcards warn. “Stop the wasteful spending and the out-of-control growth that David Bieter has been pushing since he was elected in 2003.”

Tracy said he spent $2,000 of his own money on the postcards.

Wayne Hoffman, founder and president of the conservative Idaho Freedom Foundation, and City Hall watchdog David Frazier have also publicly opposed the bonds.

James Auld, president of the Ada County Property Owners Association, wrote a Reader’s View in the Statesman urging Boiseans to vote against “these phony bond issues.”

“To be clear, these bond issues are not ‘investments’ in the usual sense that an asset is purchased with the hope of a financial return or increase in the value of the asset,” Auld wrote.

ECHOES OF 2001

City Councilwoman Lauren McLean, who’s not up for re-election this year, matched dollar-for-dollar from her own campaign donations made to the bond campaign on her behalf. The total contribution came to $5,170.

McLean made a mark on Boise politics in 2001 when she helped run the campaign for a two-year serial levy that generated $10 million for purchases and preservation of Foothills land. She said the enthusiasm that she’s seeing going into Tuesday’s bond election compares favorably to what she saw 12 years ago.

“We’re seeing more interest in this city election than in recent ones because Boise residents know that what we have here is special and that this election gives the opportunity to save more Foothills open space and natural areas along the river,” McLean said.

Scott said the campaign has spent most of its money, so organizers don’t have a big flourish in store for the last few days before the election. They’ll still send out fliers, she said, and volunteers will be out knocking on doors and making phone calls.

Staff for Conservation Voters for Idaho helped coordinate some of those volunteers, in addition to donating office space and other efforts geared for the campaign’s ground game. Executive Director John Reuter, a former Sandpoint city councilman and spokesman for the Idaho Senate Republican caucus, said the enthusiasm around the election is great and has convinced him that the bonds will pass.

“I am increasingly convinced that this is a turning point in the city of Boise,” Reuter said. “In the early weeks of the campaign, I was skeptical, but as I’ve seen these volunteers show up night after night and watched as they reach out to people and the responses they get on the phones, it is inspiring, and it really shows that we have a community that cares about its future.”

Sven Berg: 377-6275

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