Guest Opinions

Idaho legislators taking away local decisions

What’s easier for the average Idaho citizen? Calling up their local county commissioner or tracking down some distant Boise bureaucrat?

What’s more likely for the working people of Idaho? Bumping into their mayor at the coffee shop or arranging a sit-down session with the governor at his Boise office?

No question. Local elected officials are the most approachable, accessible representatives in America’s style of democratic government. That’s how it should be. Local elected officials have their ear to the ground and are directly accountable to their friends and neighbors.

That’s why “local control” is such a powerful mantra. When we want to fix a problem, Idahoans work together, neighbor to neighbor, and do it ourselves.

You don’t need a well-tailored phalanx of lobbyists or attorneys to get the ear of a county commissioner or city council member. You just need a phone book.

But if you think the current crop of Idaho legislators truly cares about local control, think again. They have proved themselves more than willing to block local decision-making, just to curry favor with a valued special interest.

Granted, there are issues (say, state tax policies) that can be addressed only by state government in Boise. Just as there are other issues (such as national defense) that are best left to Congress.

But counties and cities are rightfully tasked with an array of issues that directly impact the quality of life and the pocketbooks of their constituents. This is particularly important in a state as geographically diverse and sprawling as Idaho. The circumstances in Filer are different from those in Riggins are different from those in Athol.

Managing solid waste is one of those local issues. Counties and cities work together to collect the garbage and try to figure out the best and most efficient manner with which to dispose of or recycle it. Good ideas sprout up from the fertile soil of dedicated neighbors, working together toward practical solutions.

Recently in Idaho and elsewhere, locals have grappled with the problem of plastics in the waste stream. Local communities suffer when plastic litter degrades their community. Locals must pay to landfill plastic, which essentially never breaks down.

Some of these jurisdictions have gone so far as to ban the use of plastic bags in area grocery stores.

Stand back! The Hallelujah Chorus that usually sings hymns to “local control” suddenly is caught in a coughing fit. Legislators have pushed bills to handcuff local jurisdictions on this issue. Why?

Well, like they say in Washington, D.C., follow the money. The very legislators who are pushing legislation to handcuff local governments from implementing plastic bag bans happen to have plastic manufacturing facilities in their districts. They happen to have an open ear to the big-money, big-industry players like American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), who have ready-made, boilerplate legislation at the ready to cuff those pesky locals.

This year, it’s local communities trying to protect their communities and livelihoods from plastic litter. Not long ago, it was local communities trying to protect their water from oil-and-gas exploration. Legislators do not hesitate to act like overbearing parents, treating adult voters like children, in their rush to protect their pet industries and campaign contributors.

Local control? Don’t count on it. Look beyond the political rhetoric and see what the Idaho Legislature is really voting for.

Jacob Greenberg, chairman of the Blaine County Commissioners, notes that this is his personal opinion and not that of his fellow commissioners.

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