Legislative Action Agenda 6

The Idaho Legislature convened at noon last Monday. There are a number of issues affecting Ada County and other Idaho residents that I hope we can get addressed this session. Some of these issues include:

• Urban Renewal Reform. While urban renewal might sound good on the surface, and was surely authorized by the legislature with the best of intention, the use of urban renewal is out of control. Urban renewal and the accompanying tax increment financing costs taxpayers, benefits the few, and has spread way beyond what I believe was its original intention as a tool to assist in the cleanup of urban blight. It’s high time for massive urban renewal law reform.

• Medical Indigency Reform. Buried in his budget proposal for FY 2010, Governor Butch Otter pushed for a $6.2 million property tax increase by proposing to increase the counties’ portion of medical bill payments for people who are indigent. Counties are considered the “payer of last resort” for people who are found to be medically indigent or, in other words, unable to pay off their medical bills over a five-year period of time. Payments are made by the counties to the medical providers at the Medicaid rate. Until last year, counties were responsible for paying up to the first $10,000 for any given patient. Governor Otter pushed for a $5000 increase to a $15,000 maximum payment per patient per year, which would have amounted to a $1.25 million property tax increase for Ada County residents. The legislature compromised, settling on a maximum of $11,000 from the counties per patient per year. In addition, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is now (theoretically, since nothing is in place yet) responsible for determining Medicaid eligibility and contracting for viewing bills, determining their accuracy, determining the medical necessity of services provided and attempting to determine whether other resources are available to pay the bills. Ada County already has a process and professional staff in place to perform these services, although most other counties do not. Once the state does have this process in place, a fee will be charged back to each of the counties for this new service. Nonetheless, our property taxpayers are now footing the bill for the increased cost to the counties which would have been even higher if Governor Otter had succeeded in his efforts to increase property taxpayers’ share of these payments. I am now working with Idaho State University, the state’s health sciences university, to try to make affordable preventative clinical services available to low income clientele in an effort to get folks to take personal responsibility for their own health maintenance and avoid costly emergency room visits.

• Annexation reform. People should be able to vote before they are annexed. Otherwise, the act of annexation by a City Council and Mayor who were not elected by the affected parties, amounts to taxation without representation.

• Membership of county Planning and Zoning Commissions. While I applaud the intent of Idaho law to ensure representation from different parts of the county – inside city limits, outside city limits but within areas of city impact, and outside of both cities and areas of city impact – it is becoming increasingly difficult in Ada County to find people who live in the latter category. I would like to see the authority for determining the appropriate makeup of the Planning and Zoning Commission granted to the Boards of County Commissioners, who are ultimately responsible for all development decisions within the counties anyway.

• Property Tax Reform. A simple start to addressing this issue would be to allow county assessors to provide a single value – land and improvement value combined – rather than having to provide a breakout of the two values on assessment notices. At Board of Equalization hearings last summer, where we heard from people who felt their property values were set too high or too low, there was a significant amount of anger and confusion caused by having two separate values. It also causes unnecessary work for the appraisers, who struggle to determine fair market values, as required by law.

• Nuisance Weeds. Current Idaho law allows our Weed Department to go out and eradicate noxious weeds and bill the property owner for the service. If the property owner refuses to pay, the county is able to place a lien on the property and eventually collect. We need to have the same type of mechanism in place to address nuisance weeds, which are cropping up all over the county, particularly at abandoned houses that are in foreclosure.

• Horse Racing Regulations. Horse racing has got to be one of the most overregulated industries in the State of Idaho. Current Idaho law requires an agreement between facility operators and the Horsemen’s Benevolent Protective Association – and it can ONLY be with that particular group – before a live racing license will be issued by the Idaho Racing Commission. A live license is required in order to qualify for a simulcast license. Live racing loses money. Simulcast racing makes money. The requirement for a minimum of 46-days of live racing for facilities at which the handle exceeds $5 million affects only Idaho Downs, previously known as Les Bois Park, puts a stranglehold on the ability of business people to make good business decisions with regard to live horse racing in Idaho. There would be horse racing in Ada County today if an agreement with one particular horse racing owners’ group was not required, and if 46 days of live racing were no longer mandated.

These are just a smattering of issues that are in dire need of intervention by the Idaho Legislature, hopefully sooner rather than later. If you are interested in working on any of these issues with me, please contact me at sharonu@adaweb.net or 287-7001. Thank you!

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6 thoughts on “Legislative Action Agenda

  • horse racer

    Maybe you should do your homework before you start spouting off about something you know very little about. Simulcasting was brought into Idaho to PROTECT AND ENHANCE LIVE RACING, not the other way around!!! It is obvious you are trying to eliminate live horse racing in Ada County, but maybe you better think about all the money horse racing brings into the local economy. We are in tough times right now, remember? Why would you want to cut jobs, cut an industry and hurt the bottom line of so many businesses in and around Boise? Do you realize it is a $40 MILLION industry in the local economy? Do your homework!!

  • Sharon Ullman

    Horse racer: If it had been my goal, or the goal of my Board, to end live horse racing in Idaho, we would never have put out an RFP to find an operator for the facility and never would have signed a lease agreement with Idaho Entertainment. Under current Idaho law, there IS no live horse racing in Ada County. Obviously there is something wrong when several previous operators have lost money. Most recently, Capitol Racing lost over $1 million a year. Unless something changes, such as a reduction in the mandatory 46 days of live racing, you are correct that live horse racing will be gone, but it won't be due to actions taken by my Board.

  • Eric

    I have seen the $40 million figure before. I am interested in its origin. Does anyone have a document to back it up?

  • linda

    Eric, as for the financials, I can tell you that we normally had 4 stalls out of 800 at the track. Between breeding, vet, feed, equipment, labor, etc., our end of year spend comes out to about $80,000. Scale this up to even 600 stalls and you have roughly $12 million in first order spend from horsemen. To think that the economic value to the valley is only 3.5 times this is naive. It is much more. A large portion (roughly 50% comes from out of state (Utah, Wyoming, Washington, etc.), and in non-racing years, all of this goes somewhere else (Colorado, Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon, etc.). We haven't talked about jobs yet. The track supports somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 jobs per year. According to NBC, Jobs is the number one driver of property values in any location. I'm guessing that an added 200 jobs in Ada County is worth much more than the $75,000 lease payment. By the way, did the county commissioners, take the highest bid? I've heard that they were offered more and turned it down.

    O.K., so now for the real concerns. Why does Ada County have a Fair Grounds anyway? Is it so the county can make money? I think it is for the esoteric value that the community hopes to draw from the facility. There really is no other reason. Horse racing is a great value for the community. In order to understand this, you need to understand how Idaho is different from other states regarding horse racing. Idaho has roughly 20% the money bet per attendee than most any other track in the country. Idaho's horse racing isn't based on betting, it is based on the communities love of horses. People come to the track, bring their kids, and get the entertainment value that makes the county investment in a fair grounds worth while. Come on Sharon, are you really saying that we have the fair grounds there so people can come and bet on horses in other states? Of course not.

    Boise has a unique track design in that people can get close to, and interact with the horses. Boise loves horses. They love live horse racing. Everything is about the live horse racing. Why then would you grant the lease for the track to a group, from out of state, that has a history of minimizing live horse racing?
    Historically, Wyoming has run 16 to 20 days per year. Last year, under Idaho Entertainments supervision, they ran 8. This year how many days of racing do they have approved? "0". They simulcast $12M last year, and put up $120,000 for live horse racing. They found a way to simulcast this year in Wyoming with no live racing. This is not where we want to end up in Idaho. The laws that are currently in place are the only thing protecting us from this. Wyoming is begging us to come help them with their laws.

    Sharon, please take a look at what is really important to Idahoans. It isn't about betting, it is about horses and our love of horses. It is also a huge benefit for the Idaho economy (yes Eric, it really is more than $40million).

    Let me know if you think this wouldn't make a great Idaho Statesman article.


  • Sharon Ullman

    Linda ~ The way I see it, the laws in place in Idaho have led to "zero" days of horse racing in Ada County as well.