Boise & Garden City

That bill to require a vote on the proposed Boise stadium? It just sprang back to life

Boise group wants voters to decide on the new library and stadium proposals

A group of about two dozen Boise residents, who want voters to decide on a new library and proposed stadium, gather at a park along Vista Avenue on Saturday, March 16, 2019, to begin a signature drive to add two initiatives to the November ballot.
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A group of about two dozen Boise residents, who want voters to decide on a new library and proposed stadium, gather at a park along Vista Avenue on Saturday, March 16, 2019, to begin a signature drive to add two initiatives to the November ballot.

A bill that would require a citizen vote before Boise could spend urban renewal money on a proposed stadium has come back to life.

A legislative committee voted Thursday to send the bill to the full Senate for amendments. That came after the committee chairman, who had been sitting on the bill, agreed to have it considered by the committee.

Still, members of the Local Government & Taxation Committee expressed concerns over some of the provisions of House Bill 217, which passed the House last week.

The bill would require a public vote when any urban renewal money is used on municipal buildings or sports stadiums. The bill was backed by House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star. Boise Mayor David Bieter considers it an attack on his administration’s efforts to keep using urban renewal to improve the city.

Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, said he doesn’t like that the bill would require a public vote if any urban renewal funding, no matter how little, was used for a municipal project or a public-private venture such as a sports stadium.

Urban renewal money comes from property taxes. The current law requires a vote only if 51 percent or more of the cost of a building is paid using urban renewal money. Sixty percent of those voting must approve of the project for those funds to be used. The bill would lower that to 55 percent.

“I don’t like the first-dollar approach,” Lakey said. “’I think we should keep the 51 percent threshold.”

Boise is looking to use urban renewal money — most of which comes from property taxes — to help finance a new stadium and for parking to accompany a new main library. The stadium is estimated to cost about $50 million, with plans calling for most of its cost to be paid back in lease payments to the city and increased property-tax collections resulting from new commercial and residential development expected nearby.

After the projections for the library rose to more than $100 million, city leaders said the spending would stay between $80 million and $85 million.

Urban renewal funds work like this: A city establishes an urban renewal district. Under Idaho law, it can last up to 20 years, during which existing taxing districts, such as schools, cities and counties, continue to collect whatever taxes they collected when the district was formed, but no more. Any new property-tax revenue — the so-called tax increment — resulting from new development or higher property values goes to the district to be spent on public improvements to foster new development.

Critics said the bill does not adequately define whether infrastructure improvements would trigger a vote and when a remodeling project might require the public to weigh in.

Speakers representing cities, urban renewal districts and developers all said the current law is adequate. They noted that a revision of the state urban renewal law in 2016 involved numerous discussions with various stakeholders, but no outreach was undertaken by proponents of the latest bill.

A lobbyist for the city of Caldwell, which opposes the bill, said the Indian Creek Plaza urban renewal project had revitalized downtown Caldwell. It has brought thousands of visitors to downtown and has attracted several new restaurants, a boutique and a soda bar, she said.

But Rep. Robert Anderst, R-Nampa, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said that even after those talks were held, the same groups complaining today still opposed the 2016 legislation.

Gary Michael, a former CEO of Albertsons and a leader of the group Concerned Boise Taxpayers, said residents should have a voice in how money is spent.

Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill voted to move the bill out of committee but said he had reservations. “There are going to need to be substantial changes for me to support the bill [on the floor],” Hill said.

For a time, it looked like the new bill wouldn’t get a hearing at all. After the House vote, Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, the chairman of the Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee, said he didn’t think the bill was ready to move forward.

The hearing came after Rice, Anderst and other legislators met and agreed that amendments were needed to win approval in the Senate.

Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, tried to keep the bill in committee, where it would have likely died. The committee voted down his motion on a voice vote. Burgoyne was the only member of the nine-member committee to vote against sending it to the Senate.

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Reporter John Sowell has worked for the Statesman since 2013. He covers business and growth issues. He grew up in Emmett and graduated from the University of Oregon.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.