Urban renewal has come into the public spotlight the last few years across Idaho, largely focusing on the proponents stated accomplishments of such districts versus how they are funded, created and administered.
The primary rationale behind urban renewal projects is to grow business and bring prosperity within certain impacted areas using taxpayer funds; for instance, an old downtown area that is outdated or perhaps has fallen on hard times.
That sounds like mom, Chevrolets and apple pie, but opponents of the districts feel that urban renewal agencies have become too powerful, spend too much of the taxpayers’ money, are not accountable to taxpayers and many projects are not worth the cost.
Several pieces of legislation were introduced during the 2012 Idaho legislative session aimed at curbing the power of urban renewal agencies. Most were defeated.
The Idaho Freedom Foundation, in an effort to give voters some frame of reference for the issue in advance of the May 15 primary, asked candidates about urban renewal varying from repealing it to reforming it and offered them the opportunity to explain their responses.
First, should the state of Idaho repeal the use of urban renewal? Out of 92 surveys returned, 35 said they would support repealing urban renewal, 18 were opposed to it, 18 said they weren’t sure and some chose not to answer.
Support for the repeal of urban renewal centered on a common theme: Let the free market and businesses decide where they want to do business, not the government.
While many chose to voice their disapproval of urban renewal, Parrish Miller, a Republican candidate for the House from District 21, reflected the general sentiment in opposition to urban renewal districts. “Urban renewal is a scam, and it must be eliminated. ‘Economic development’ is not part of the proper role of government, and it must be left exclusively to the private sector. Urban renewal siphons money away from property owners to fund the grandiose schemes of central planners and social engineers. It is wrong, and I oppose it.”
For those candidates who opposed repealing the urban renewal laws, many felt it was a good thing for underdeveloped areas, but admitted that in recent years projects may have gone a bit far.
Dave Bowen, a Republican from Pocatello’s District 29 seeking a House seat, believes urban renewal has its place, but must stay true to the original intent of economic development. “This is a very essential tool that when used correctly gives us a good way to attract new business. It has been used incorrectly in many areas of the state causing a problem.”
While there were several candidates outspoken against repealing urban renewal laws, just four said they were in support of expanding it in Idaho. However, three of those four did have reservations, saying that there would have to be a proper framework outlining expansion, and perhaps some reform.
Many of the 55 candidates opposed to expanding urban renewal chose not to explain their answer, but one person did respond with “You have got to be kidding me.”
There were also several comments from the 17 candidates who weren’t sure about expansion. Some said they didn’t fully understand the issue, while others said they could possibly be open to the idea of expanding urban renewal if there is some reform.
Speaking of reform …
Candidates were asked if they would support reforming urban renewal by limiting the projects and holding elections for urban renewal commissioners.
There were 44 candidates in support of it, 16 against it, 16 that weren’t sure and, as always, several candidates chose not to answer the question.
Mainly those candidates for reform believe ultimately that urban renewal laws should be repealed, but reform is a good starting point. One such candidate, Thomas LeClaire, a Republican seeking a House seat in District 20 from Meridian, believes it’s a tool for cities that has created more problems than it has fixed. “Urban renewal laws definitely need to be reformed or repealed. I could support reform that included a shorter list of eligible projects and more transparency. … Having been involved in local government for many years, I appreciate urban renewal as a tool for city revitalization. However, it has created way too many unexpected and wasteful projects.”
Being in opposition to reforming didn’t necessarily mean candidates were in support of the current way urban renewal is administered. In fact, most of those who opposed reforming urban renewal were actually in favor of repealing it. They felt by allowing there to be elections, voters would then become more accepting of urban renewal, which to them is a bad thing.
There were a couple of candidates, however, who felt that reforms passed during the 2012 legislative session should be given time to see if they produce the desired results.
To read the full surveys from candidates, click here.
Note: IdahoReporter.com is published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.