Friday, January 29, 2010

An Offpoint Rant

This blog was set up to discuss issues at ACHD most especially to get my point of view across but also because the media doesn't bother to cover ACHD to any great effect. I will admit that sometimes it's hard to find a topic that one, interests me and two, would also interest a reader. A lot of what ACHD does is stupifyingly dull.

But today I'm going to digress.

There has been a lot of talk in the greater land about jobs - where are the jobs, how do we create them, who creates them, etc. Mostly it's coming from the area of our country with huge geothermal, wind and natural gas reserves - Washington DC. Unfortunately, the people there create their own hot air through being windy gasbags and have never done any real energy exploration or created any real jobs in their lives.

You see - we need jobs that are created by the private sector and that produce something. We don't need jobs that are "created" by government. Those jobs just rob money from the private sector because government jobs don't create anything. I'm not saying some aren't needed. We have government to provide the things for the common good that individuals either couldn't do themselves or couldn't do economically. For example, road building (see it does have a relevant ACHD angle) or the common defense or even police and fire protection.

But government also overreaches. And I think with the AIG fiasco, the GM and Chrysler takeovers, the command and controlish central economy to which we seem to be getting closer, we've more than exceeded that overreach point. When entities like ACHD chase money from the Feds like 24 replacement vans in order to not "leave money on the table" instead of having the ability to spend it on real infrastructure, we are jumping to DC's tune and not to the needs of our community first.

So what should be done to create jobs? I actually have created jobs in the private sector. My husband and I created, nurtured, grew, operated and sold our own business. It wasn't easy and it was risky but the most irritating thing was when we sold it, even after having created jobs and paid the FICA, the Medicare, the FUTA, the income tax, the unemployment tax, the worker's comp and oh yes, health insurance, the feds and the State swoop in and say, you've made all this money and 15% (thank goodness for the Bush capital gain tax cut) is ours.

So again, how to create a job? All I know is someone has to have an idea for a niche in the marketplace. They have to have access to capital, either through their own savings or borrowing because there will be operating expenses before revenue. There needs to be a tax structure that doesn't take a good share of profit so that someone who might have been willing to take a risk says why should I if I don't get to keep the fruits of my labor?

What I don't think a lot of people in this administration or Congress get is, even if a business owner doesn't hire anyone else right off the bat, they have still created a job - their own. And if they are going to hire someone else one thing is very clear. That person must make the owner of the business money. Not just break even, but make a profit and certainly, definitely never have to subsidize that position.

That's what's laughable about the proposed $2500 tax credit for businesses which hire a new employee making more than $35,000 per year and with health insurance. That $35,000 is really more like $38,500 or more with additional government mandated taxation plus whatever the health insurance portion is that the employer would pick up so a pathetic $2500 tax credit doesn't even offset the tax portion of the wage. If the total salary package is $40,000 that means that the employer needs to have at least $60,000 in revenue to cover the overhead of the employee plus make a little profit.

I think the way to create an environment so that people will take risks on starting businesses or expanding businesses is to take a lot of the uncertainty out of the system. And that starts in Washington DC. Stop the blather about cap and trade which will just add costs to everything anyone does. Stop this stupid healthcare redo and concentrate on health system reform which means only incorporate items which either reduce costs and/or increase efficiencies. Stop spending so much on trying to create winners and losers by "targeted" tax cuts or subsidies or whatever and just lower tax costs on everyone. Stop "stimulating" our children's and grandchildren's future debt load.

Perhaps this is the answer. Let's just pay Congress to go home and campaign for the next 9 months - no legislating allowed. Let's let Obama take Air Force One wherever he wants to go but no more speeches or proposals for spending allowed. We can have the certainty that nothing will happen to screw things up anymore for the next 9 months. Maybe that will be the catalyst for growth and optimism in our economic system.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Continuing Budget Saga

On January 27, 2010, the ACHD Commission will be reviewing the budget changes which come out of the first quarter (October - December 2009). We will be asked to accept a budget $1 million less than originally approved. Some projects are added and these are the major changes.

Original Capital Project Budget $ 37,400,000
EPCB Notes Payable ( 3,500,000)
Ten Mile, Franklin / Cherry Lane ( 2,500,000)
Maple Grove, Franklin / Fairview ( 370,000)
Franklin, Touchmark / Five Mile ( 500,000)
Eagle, Victory / Ridenbaugh Canal - construction 2,409,000
Victory and Eagle Intersection - construction 1,067,000
SH-44 / State / Ballantyne – r/w acquisition 713,000
Ten Mile, Old to New Overland - design 250,000
Pedestrian Countdown Heads 200,000
Various Adjustments 430,000
Proposed Capital Project Budget $ 35,599,000

The Ten Mile, Maple Grove and Franklin projects are still being accomplished just with less money.

What is annoying about the budget change is an addition of $13,000 to the PR budget which already is at $680,000. This is purportedly for blinking safety reflectors given out at schools and at the YMCA. I don't have a problem with giving out the blinkers, I have a problem with increasing a bloated PR budget even more. They seriously can't find savings of $13,000 out of $680,000?

I'll be bringing this item up at the meeting. We'll see how it goes. (I can surmise how it will go, as I'm sure you can, but let's inject some suspense here.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Jobs a Million, but not a Million Jobs

Today at our ACHD pre-commission meeting, sorry no video - no audio, we discussed the son of stimulus bill and our list of projects. The son of stimulus is actually called the jobs bill I guess because the first stimulus which was supposed to create jobs really didn't so now there might be another stimulus bill which will actually create jobs. (However, with the election of Scott Brown in MA to the Senate, this latest bailout might not even happen.)

Actually, I raised the topic. You see, in our various project submissions, like thin lift overlays and sidewalk construction and intelligent transportation systems we are supposed to state "how many jobs are to be created". Guess what folks - it's all phony! The most egregious is found on page 10 of the pdf file. We are proposing to buy 24 replacement commuterride vans and that will create 9 jobs!

The question I had was how? How does buying new replacement vans create one job in Idaho? Maybe it keeps a UAW member on the Ford assembly line working for more than 6 hours a day for a week or so, but seriously 9 jobs?

Commissioner McKee stated that she thought any job created anywhere was appropriate. I pointed out that this "stimulus" money was supposed to create jobs in Idaho and that buying vans was not creating any jobs anyway.

People are getting fed up with stuff like this. It's all smoke and mirrors. Maybe buying commuterride vans is a good thing but in that case it should rise or fall on its merits. And we certainly shouldn't be dummying up numbers of "jobs created". People aren't that stupid.

Oh well, like I said earlier, this may all be moot.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Tax Policy

Yesterday, Dan Popkey wrote, with incredulity, about Republican legislators working towards tax cuts in this time of economic woe. The woe he referred to was the woe of the State with declining revenues rather than the woe of the taxpayers with declining revenues.

I'm not going to weigh in on the good or the bad here, but I am going to relate some facts.

We have for years been treated to the adage that Idaho has a "three legged stool" that gives us a balanced revenue collection at the state and local levels and this "three-legged stool" gives us balance, stability and low taxes overall. (The three legs are property tax, income tax and sales tax.) This stool may have delivered on the promises at one time, but it's now just a rickety piece of furniture.

Of the states surrounding us, Idaho has the highest state and local tax burden - all figures are 2008 and you think it got better in 2009? We are the 13th highest taxing state in the nation. Idaho's per capita income is 82.5% of the national average. Idaho has ranked lower than 18th and that was in 2006. Seems we've been a high tax state forever, we've just been told otherwise.

How are the states around us doing?

Washington with no income tax ranks 35th.
Oregon with no sales tax ranks 26th.
Wyoming with no income tax ranks 48th.
Montana with no sales tax ranks 40th.
Nevada with no income tax ranks 49th.
Utah, a three legged stool state, ranks 22nd.

Utah's per capita income is lower than Idaho's while Montana's is slightly higher. Washington, Oregon, Wyoming and Nevada's incomes are substantially higher.

Clearly, Idaho's tax burden is extremely high which does put us at a competitive disadvantage to our neighbors. Even Massachusetts, long thought to be a highly taxed state, has a state/local tax burden of 23. Massachusetts is less taxing than Idaho!!!!

As a taxpayer, I just hope the answer to high taxes isn't to raise them higher.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Truth Will Out

If there is one certainty in this world, it is that the truth will always come out in life, in government or in politics. Sometimes it takes a little longer than one would like, but in the end, the truth arrives.

A number of years ago, ACHD made the decision to ream out the West Bench by installing a five lane road on Ustick where only three had been. The area between Cole Rd and Five Mile Rd was, and remains, substantially residential with some mixed use - an eclectic area. No one, except ACHD, really wanted the road. At that time, ACHD did not listen to the community, in fact, there was never one public hearing on the project - it was rammed down the public's throat.

One of the suspicions the residents had was that the reason for widening Ustick was to forestall the widening of Fairview Ave. Fairview had been in the plans for many, many years to be widened to seven lanes from its current five lanes. You can see as you travel down Fairview that there are currently places where there is room for extra lanes. Well, it would be much more expensive to acquire land on commercialized Fairview than to just sucker residents along Ustick (and sucker some they did.)

And that suspicion, when voiced to ACHD staff and ACHD Commissioners, was pooh poohed. "We wouldn't do that, that's not true, we would never do that, that's not the plan" blah blah blah. I mean really, how could anyone think that ACHD would actually lie to citizens?

Well, as I said, the truth will out.

Under Draft B of the FY2011-2015 Work Plan ( list of future projects), on page 2 under Fairview Avenue, it specifically states "Although Fairview Avenue scores high in the prioritization for widening to seven lanes between Meridian and Cole, staff recommends delaying any programming of these projects until the widening of the Franklin and Ustick corridors is complete. Once these corridors are complete, it may delay the need to widen Fairview for some time." (emphasis added)

Now many of the staff members working on this years Five Year Plan were not involved way back when statements were made to the contrary. But four Commissioners were and they were called on it today by me. The wording will be amended to reflect that Fairview is still in the works. I'll be interested to see how it looks in the final draft.

I understand that things change. But honesty should not be mutable. Government can only survive with the consent of the governed. When those who are governed are lied to, we are doomed. And the truth always is uncovered.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy New Year

Here's hoping 2010 is a good one for all of us and our community.

As you are no doubt aware, I haven't posted over the holidays. In fact, I was away on vacation. But sometimes on vacation, one can see good ideas that perhaps should be replicated.

Here's one that fits the bill.

How many times have we passed construction zones and haven't a clue how to access businesses in that area? Or how many businesses have suffered greatly in a construction zone because it's difficult to get to them?

Daytona Beach Florida has a great idea. Put up signs that actually tell the driving public how to get to a business.

Sometimes, they even put the business name on the sign.

What a concept - and one we should adopt.

UPDATE: Turns out ACHD does put signs up on request that indicate that businesses are open. I'm going to be asking that we do this on a universal basis in any construction area that involves a business.