In a two-hour hearing Friday afternoon, lawmakers heard public testimony on the idea of repealing Idaho’s urban renewal law as a gateway to reforming economic development practices.
The repeal is part of a bill being pushed by Rep. Bob Schaefer, R-Nampa, who believes that urban renewal has been used and abused in recent years. The legislation wouldn’t force active agencies to shut down, but would prevent new ones from being opened.
Schaefer isn’t completely against the concept of local economic development, but told committee members that the law doesn’t provide enough transparency or accountability to taxpayers, which he says creates an “advanced level of greed for taxpayer dollars.”
If his bill makes it into law, Schaefer says he would bring legislation with reformed urban renewal practices therein. “We need to redraw an appropriate urban renewal law,” Schaefer said.
Former state lawmaker Maurice Clements of Nampa told the panel that California has ended its urban renewal programs because they were rife with abuse and prodded Idaho lawmakers to do the same. “We’re headed that direction,” Clements warned. “This is a growing thing and there’s going to be more abuse constantly.”
But Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad said that in order to stay competitive with other states, Idaho must keep its urban renewal incentives in place. “We don’t have what other states have,” Blad said. “We don’t have the ability to throw money at them because it sounds good.”
Pocatello’s chief financial officer, David Swindell, warned that waiting for the free market to bring jobs to Idaho’s cities would be misguided. “That’s using hope for a method,” Swindell said, rejecting the market solution.
Blad said that the incentives and subsidies provided by urban renewal agencies are now required to interest corporate site-selectors. “The reality is the companies are looking for investments from their communities to come here,” Blad said.
Melinda Anderson, head of the urban renewal agency in Twin Falls, agreed with Blad that incentives are needed to attract businesses, saying they are “literally the only tool Idaho communities have to create jobs and spur private investment.”
The bill’s vote was delayed because some panel lawmakers needed to return home for the weekend and panel chair Lenore Hardy Barrett, R-Challis, didn’t want to rush the process. “This is not going to be one of those fast votes,” Barrett said. “If you object, I’m sorry, but let’s have due diligence here.”