As Boise residents tearfully describe how rising property taxes are forcing them out of their homes, what’s Mayor Dave Bieter concerned about? Acquiring electric garbage trucks. Tackling climate change. And, a city government initiative to promote kindness.
In his annual State of the City address days ago, Bieter rattled off a list of government expansions and programs, seemingly oblivious to the well-documented pain being endured by residents as they’re priced out of their homes. Much of the hurt is being inflicted on them by a city that is overspending and overtaxing, with a policy agenda that sounds as if it was prepared in California, not Idaho.
After 16 years in office, Bieter’s connection to the pulse of residents in Idaho’s largest city has seemingly atrophied, and the disconnect is extreme. That’s much of the reason at least two mayoral candidates are talking about out-of-control property taxes even if Bieter won’t. Rebecca Arnold, the president of the Ada County Highway District, announced her campaign for mayor saying “ridiculously high” property taxes motivated her to run. Former mayor Brent Coles, whose resignation from office in 2003 was touched off by questions about spending, also highlighted the city’s wastefulness as part of his campaign announcement. (For a comprehensive review of how Boise wastes taxpayer money, click here to see policy analyst Lindsay Atkinson’s mind-blowing 208-page report that catalogs $144 million in failed projects and entirely unnecessary city government expenditures).
Yet if Bieter’s State of the City speech taught us anything, it’s that the mayor remains committed as ever to costly programs that envisions using the city as his own personal social justice experiment. And although he didn’t talk about it, we also know that Bieter hasn’t abandoned plans for three legacy-building, property tax-sucking projects: a new sports complex costing $40 million; a library (supposedly on hold but not abandoned) that’s expected to cost up to $105 million; and a streetcar to anywhere, pricetag unknown.
In his speech, Bieter recounted an exchange with a local resident who said, according to Bieter, that if God were to give him a choice between Heaven and Boise, he’d choose Boise. Bieter concluded his remarks saying, if he is successful in executing his agenda “people will choose Boise over Heaven, but if we do really well, you might not know the difference.”
Bieter’s comments brought to mind a quote from C.S. Lewis, who wrote: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth.”
Bieter is no doubt sincere when he says he wants Boise to be the most livable city in America. But the mayor needs to remember that he is not God, and in Heaven people aren’t taxed straight to Hell as they are in Boise.