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Idaho's Weekly Journal of Local & National Commentary  Week 2814

 

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by Free Market Duck

Voters, not the Idaho Transportation Board, must approve billion dollar highway expenditures for “Connecting Idaho”
(Oct 20, 2006)

According to the Idaho Constitution, Article VIII, Section 1 on Public Indebtedness and Subsidies, it is OK for the state legislature, but not the Idaho Transportation Board, to enter into a multi-year single project indebtedness, “BUT no such law shall take effect until at a general election it shall have been submitted to the people, and shall have received a majority of all the votes cast for or against it at such election, and all moneys raised by the authority of such laws shall be applied only to specified objects therein stated or to the payment of this debt thereby created, and such law shall be published prior to the general election at which it is submitted to the people, in the same manner as amendments to this constitution are published.”

Boise, ID – So here’s the Big Question, girl friends:  Why isn’t Idaho’s billion dollar, multi-year, Highway Plan expenditure listed on this year’s November ballot?  And by what authority does the Idaho Transportation Board OK a billion dollar multi-year deficit?

   In order to understand what’s wrong here, one has to remember that there is a successive hierarchy of law, the highest trumping the lowest, with the U.S. Constitution being the Supreme Law of the Land.  Next in line is the Idaho Constitution, which states in Article I, Section 3 - Declaration of Rights that “The state of Idaho is an inseparable part of the American Union, and the Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land.”  After the Idaho Constitution, all other laws, statutes, and rulings are subordinate to the U.S. and Idaho Constitutions.  For example, parking meter statutes and civil and criminal law in Idaho CANNOT conflict with, supersede, or contradict the provisions in either constitution.  That’s why the hierarchy of our court system, from municipal to superior to appellate to the Idaho Supreme Court to the U.S. Supreme Court, follows the same hierarchy.  (Note, however, that the people can ultimately override all laws and change either constitution since they obtained their inherent rights prior to both constitutions.)

   So, ex Gov Kempthorne introduced a $3 billion (including interest) Highway Plan to the state legislature to go into multi-year debt, the indebtedness to be repaid from the federal government’s GARVEE program (future gasoline taxes) IF FUNDS BECOME AVAILABLE.  Forgetting recent discoveries that many portions of Kempthorne’s Highway Plan were not fully estimated, still are not estimated, have doubled in price, and that the proponents may have purposely lied to the lawmakers, something else is missing:  namely, the voters of Idaho must approve this indebtedness on a ballot at the next general election, November 7.

   According to the Idaho Constitution, which supersedes all other Idaho law, the voters must approve Kempthorne’s “Connecting Idaho” indebtedness.  The only exceptions, as stated in Article VIII, Section 1 of the Idaho Constitution are: (1) “liabilities for ordinary operating expenses,” and (2) “debts or liabilities that are repaid by the end of the fiscal year.”  Whether politicians like these constitutional restrictions on spending and indebtedness is not the issue.  Either we have a constitution or we don’t.  Attempts to circumvent OR SIMPLY IGNORE the Idaho Constitution are illegal.  Since $3 billion dollars (or more) for “Connecting Idaho” is neither an “ordinary operating expense” or a “liability that [can be] repaid by the end of the fiscal year,” this indebtedness is not legal unless voted upon by the citizens of Idaho.

   Furthermore, a public committee, commission, board, or bureau that does not have the authority to either levy taxes or obligate the state’s general fund – such as the Idaho Transportation Board, which is appointed by the Governor – cannot simply create debts or liabilities for the state of Idaho.  As Article VIII, Section 1 states, “The debts or liabilities of the [above public bodies] are not debts or liabilities of the state of Idaho.”  Contrary to overzealous politicians, this provision does not mean that since the Transportation Board’s debts are not legal obligations of the state of Idaho they can, therefore, go willy-nilly into multi-year indebtedness.  Otherwise, this wrong translation would allow ALL taxing and non-taxing committees, commissions, boards, and bureaus to spend as much money and go into as much debt as their little bureaucratic hearts desired – clearly not the intent of this Section of the Idaho Constitution.

   Whose responsibility is it to put the “Connecting Idaho” indebtedness proposal on this November’s ballot:  the Secretary of State, Mr. Ben Ysursa or State Attorney General, Mr. Lawrence Wasden, or both?

   In conclusion, there are several other long-term indebtedness projects that should be placed on the November ballot.  Boise’s Library Blocks project and GBAD’s second Convention Center project are examples.  Previous examples of unconstitutional indebtedness include the land and building fake leases for the Ada County Courthouse and University Place extension.  Breaking multi-year indebtedness into fake annual leases or one-year sub-projects to pull off an end run around the indebtedness provisions of the Idaho Constitution are not only disingenuous, they are blatantly unconstitutional.  As stated in the Harvard Law Review, if lease amounts exactly equal purchase amounts, they shall be deemed purchases, not leases.

   In addition, so-called “Rainy Day Funds” of surplus tax money also fall under the limitations of Article VIII in Idaho’s Constitution.  Otherwise, overzealous politicians could simply overtax us on purpose to collect lots more money than they can spend in one fiscal year, place it in “Rainy Day Funds,” and then purposely spend the extra money over multiple years for their favorite projects.  Expending “Rainy Day Fund” surplus tax money over multiple years without a vote of the people is no different than selling bonds in one year for multiple year indebtedness without a vote of the people.

   The question remains, “Why hasn’t Idaho’s Secretary of State placed “Connecting Idaho‘s” $3 billion question on the November ballot? – FM Duck

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