The Pocatello-Chubbuck Auditorium District in eastern Idaho is using taxpayer funds to lobby state lawmakers at the Idaho Capitol, according to records turned over to IdahoReporter.com.
One official with the district defended the practice, saying that her entity should have the right to influence legislation in which it has a direct interest.
Auditorium districts are typically funded through two avenues: taxes on hotel rooms within the bounds of the district and revenue generated from district activities. In 2010, for example, the Greater Boise Auditorium District in the Treasure Valley took in $3.5 million in tax receipts while generating $3 million from renting and operating the Boise Centre on the Grove.
The Pocatello-Chubbuck district realizes approximately $320,000 annually from a 2 percent hotel tax collected in Chubbuck and Pocatello.
The Pocatello-Chubbuck Auditorium District contracts with lobbyist Michael Kane for its legislative representation. Invoices from Kane to the district show that he charged $20,000 on Jan. 11 – the beginning of the legislative session this year – for “services rendered.” Kane also billed the district for expenses associated with his lobbying activities, including meals and at least one hotel stay.
Laurie Peters, a board member for the Pocatello district, says that the district should have the right to influence legislation. “I feel it is important that auditorium districts have the ability to attempt to improve and/or correct deficiencies in the law that governs them,” said Peters in an e-mail. “We, and our legal counsel, feel there are some disconnects in the Idaho statutes concerning auditorium districts.”
Idaho Code 67-4912 states that auditorium districts have the right to retain legal counsel and Peters says that includes outside contractors to lobby state lawmakers. “If private citizens are the only ones who can attempt to change the law, then where does that leave any governmental entity including cities and counties?” she asked.
What did the Pocatello district get for its money? Kane listed House Bill 116 as something he worked for on behalf of the district. The legislation would have clarified the marketing powers of auditorium districts. The bill was assigned to the House Local Government Committee, but the legislation did not make it out of the panel.
Under Idaho Code, an auditorium district has the authority to levy taxes to build, operate and market its own facilities. The House bill was an attempt to allow an auditorium district to market facilities it does not own, a position Chubbuck-Pocatello finds itself in since it does have its own facilities.