citydesk 

Roundabouts, freshmen and taxes

'Tis the season

It's that time of year again, the season when all pretenses of the separation of church and state are thrown out the window. Yes, it's tree-lighting time, Christmas tree lighting time, that is. The time of year when our path through the Grove is blocked by a towering, rootless conifer, lit up by Mayor Dave and his family. The time of year when Butch and First Lady Otter spend their evening flipping the switch on the poor, actual tree outside his temporary offices and doling out free Starbucks and kids' books to all comers.

Here at citydesk, where not all of us celebrate Christmas, we'll just ignore the dire constitutional questions raised by this annual practice for another year, preferring to report on things like roundabouts and freshman hazing.

Will the gentleman from District 16 please mount the keg?

Speaking of hazing, it's freshman time over at the Annex. In case you've forgotten, the Idaho Legislature will meet again this year in the old Ada County Courthouse, now dubbed the Capitol Annex. From the west half of the foreboding, Gotham-like building, lawmakers can watch the progress of the restoration of their once and future home, the actual Idaho Statehouse.

The first week of December is freshman orientation week, when newbies—five in the Senate and 11 in the House—are introduced to the law: how to read the law, how to write the law, how to not break the law.

Four of the five new senators already have some experience with this law stuff, as they moved up from the House in the November election. But of course, the Senate has its own way of doing things, so they'll still be broken in a bit.

The freshmen also get to schmooze with some judges and lawyers and other elected officials at a reception. Oh, and maybe some lobbyists.

But most importantly, after BW goes to press, and the freshmen are so thoroughly hazed that they forget where they came from and who pays their salaries, the entire Legislature will meet and organize itself, as in, assign committees and leadership roles and try to guess who Gov. Otter is going to pick for lieutenant governor when the lieutenant governor Idahoans picked moves to Washington, D.C., to be a U.S. senator.

Incidentally, we do not mean to imply anything about the delegation from District 16.

For a report on the Legislature's organizational meeting, visit us online at citydesk.boiseweekly.com.

click to enlarge Throw the dog a bone: A 36th Street roundabout? - ACHD
  • ACHD
  • Throw the dog a bone: A 36th Street roundabout?

Roundabout redoubt

There was a time when roundabouts were about to become all the rage at the Ada County Highway District. Two years ago, a pair of roundabouts—the type of circular intersections found throughout the United Kingdom (where folks drive wacky, mind you)—were planned for the North and East ends in Boise.

One, on Warm Springs Avenue at the Old Penitentiary, was delayed because the state would not give up a bit of land, on principle. The other, at the five-way intersection that is Hill Road, Catalpa Drive and 36th Street, was delayed, scaled back and delayed again.

"Since that time, the cost increased so much that we decided to look at a different proposal," said ACHD spokesperson Christy Foltz-Ahlrichs. The cost had risen to $5.7 million.

Now the 36th Street roundabout is back on the table and ACHD is asking area residents to take another look at the proposal.

It's called a "dogbone roundabout" and it's actually a pair of smaller roundabouts that take up less space and cost a fraction of a traditional roundabout: closer to $1 million.

Related to the rejiggered intersection is an expansion and widening of 36th Street, which is slated to one day cut through to Cartwright Road to accommodate all the traffic coming out of the Foothills—traffic caused by new developments that ACHD has largely signed off on.

The connection to Cartwright will be fully paid by development impact fees, a charge on new houses that ACHD collects to pay for certain nearby, growth-related projects.

The public can learn about both projects at an open house to be held from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 11, at Cynthia Mann Elementary School, 5401 W. Castle Dr.

But don't get your hopes up for any rapid changes at the five-way intersection on 36th Street that has been debated since the 1980s.

"Neither of these projects are going to happen anytime soon," Foltz-Ahlrichs said.

The taxman cometh

Starting in January, people who pay their taxes with plastic will have to pay a bit extra.

The Idaho State Tax Commission will begin charging what it calls a "convenience fee" to pay state taxes by credit or debit card or by electronic check.

Tax Commission financial officer Mark Poppler said the fees have been discussed for about a year and will save the state some $2 million.

Based on last year's returns, when some 55,000 tax payments were made by credit or debit card, the average cost to taxpayers in fees would have been $54, Poppler calculated.

Only 2.8 percent of tax payments are made by credit card, he added.

"I think anybody ought to think twice about putting anything on their credit card right now," Poppler said, when asked about the credit crisis.

But credit card transactions have helped the state collect from reluctant or sneaky taxpayers. When the nice tax collector calls, they are happy to put the bill on any of your major credit cards.

"It's definitely passed the burden from the state to the credit card companies," Poppler said.

You can still send a personal check to the state and the commissioners will take cash as well at any of their field offices (they will promptly deposit your cash into state coffers, don't worry).

The new fee is 3 percent of any credit or debit payment and $5 for each e-check.

And it was just a coincidence that the fees and estimated $2 million savings were announced the same day that the governor ordered a 3 percent cut in each state agency budget, Poppler said.

war in Iraq

U.S. CASUALTIES: As of Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2008, 4,209 U.S. service members (including 31 Idahoans) have died since the war in Iraq began in March 2003: 3,395 in combat and 814 from non-combat-related incidents and accidents. Injured service members total 30,852. In the last week, four U.S. soldiers died.

Since President George W. Bush declared "mission accomplished" aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, 4,059 soldiers have died.

Source: U.S. Dept. of Defense

IRAQI CIVILIAN DEATHS: Estimated between 89,544 and 97,762.

Source: iraqbodycount.net

COST OF IRAQ WAR: $576,140,098,287

Source: costofwar.com

—Nathaniel Hoffman

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