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Reader's View, local-option tax: Idaho must pave the way for transportation alternatives

Heather Wheeler
February 8, 2013
Idaho Statesman

This January, two issues at the local and national level have the potential to positively impact the transportation options in Idaho.

The first is our governor's proposal to institute a local-option tax, and the second is Congress' decision to continue an option for employers to provide transit and vanpool tax-free benefits to their employees.

While the governor's proposal to eventually eliminate the business personal property tax has been met with mixed reactions, the proposal to initiate a local-option tax has some promising implications for the future of Idaho's transportation options, particularly in many of our rural communities. I'll leave the debate about whether local-option tax should replace business personal property tax up to tax professionals, but I do want to highlight what a local-option tax could do for Idaho.

Idaho is one of the most rural states in our nation; because of this we have long distances to travel to access our work, our schools and communities. A local-option tax would give Idahoans the tool they need to address their respective transportation needs.

Research shows that communities that pool resources to create a coordinated transportation system have increased access to health care, jobs and education, and improved the lives of the seniors in their communities.

Local-option tax is a tool which lets local communities solve local problems, in the way they see fit, instead of decisions made by lawmakers who don't live or work in the community. As our governor stated, "My preference is granting local-option taxing authority that enables county voters to decide for themselves how to address their most pressing needs."

The second issue that's on a more national level is the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, which Congress passed December 2012. This act renewed the option for most employers to provide transit and vanpool tax-free benefits to their employees up to $245 per month.

For Idahoans this means that participating employers and their employees can reap important benefits. While employees will see tax and cost savings, employers will enjoy reduction in income and payroll taxes as well as reduced parking costs. This transit benefit also reduces environmental impacts, exhibits corporate citizenship, and helps reduce dependence on foreign sources of energy.

While Idahoans can now access better tax benefits for utilizing transit and vanpools, CTAI and its partners are working to assist Idahoans in identifying those transportation options through a single online transportation resource — This resource provides easy access to tools like the Idaho RideShare program, which helps Idahoans find the right person to share a ride via carpool or vanpool. And coming soon, the Veteran's One-Click online transportation directory will allow veterans and those assisting veterans to identify transportation options provided by transportation providers, social service agencies, and other entities within their communities and throughout the state.

At the core of I-way is local planning and coordination, which is facilitated by CTAI district mobility managers in partnership with local leaders, citizens, transportation providers and other mobility supporters. While cities like Dover, Salmon, Driggs, Moscow and Pocatello have recently benefitted from this initiative, all Idahoans benefit from transportation options that keep our state clean and beautiful.

Join CTAI in encouraging our national representatives to continue to find ways to incentivize smart transportation options, while asking our local legislators to create a mechanism to let communities solve their local transportation issues through a local option tax.

Heather Wheeler, of Boise, is the executive director of the Community Transportation Association of Idaho (CTAI).

Originally posted at

The editorial posted here is provided by permission of its original publisher and does not necessarily reflect the views of Idaho Public Television.

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