The glossy campaign packet from Mayor Dave Bieter arrived in my mailbox a few days ago. In it, the four-term incumbent mayor eagerly bragged about the things he’s done in his nearly 16 years at the helm of Idaho’s biggest city.
A quick look at the mayor’s Facebook ads confirms his campaign strategy. The mayor wants to show how he has used your money to improve Boise life.
His accomplishments, or so he characterizes them, are myriad. Bieter has built four new library branches, put new parks around the city, upgraded several of the city’s fire stations, and on and on.
It’s an impressive resume if you’re only looking at the things Bieter and his buddies want you to see. Bieter wants to build a narrative that keeps him as the hero whose four-term crusade has made Boise the most livable city in the country. As a campaign strategy, it’s not half-bad.
But that narrative is incomplete and somewhat misleading.
To understand why, we turn to the writings of French philosopher and economist Frédéric Bastiat, one of the great minds of modern times. His writings are foundational to liberty and limited-government thinking and his seminal work, “The Law,” should be required reading in every American classroom.
In a series of essays, Bastiat remarks on “that which is seen” and “that which is not seen.” The seen, states Bastiat, are more or less those things that are easily observable.
Case in point: Bieter basks in the seen. He wants you to see all the wonderful work he’s done—with your money— to make Boise a liberal utopia. If you enjoy a Greenbelt stroll, Bieter wants you to think of him. If you visit a branch library, Bieter wants to be in your head. If you attend the annual Treefort music festival, Bieter wants credit for that.
Of course, I’m not really telling you anything new if you’re paid attention to politics for more than about 45 seconds. Politicians love to use their positions, power, and your money to look good and cut as many ribbons as possible.
In this election cycle, people have noticed Bieter’s omnipresence. Below, for example, is BoiseDev’s Don Day’s tweet about the mayor’s growing camera time:
Though this makes for smart politics, it’s a poor way to run a city.
Why? The unseen, as described by Bastiat.
While the mayor is busily directing your gaze to the shiny new objects, Boiseans like you are making tough life choices to cope with the taxes that fund Bieter’s expensive agenda. In recent weeks, I’ve talked to a number of Boiseans who have sacrificed a lot to keep their homes in this supposedly livable city. Moms and dads are sacrificing time with family as they take on side gigs to make ends meet. Seniors are cutting plans to see loved ones because they can’t spare the money.
But, you won’t see these people on a Bieter campaign brochure. These tax-paying Boiseans don’t fit the mayor’s narrative.
Thankfully, the Idaho Statesman recently gave readers a glimpse into the other Boise that Bieter doesn’t want to discuss. Becky Boyd, a 69-year-old longtime city resident, told the Stateman’s Hayley Harding she was priced out of her home by property taxes.
“I resent being forced out of my home that I’ve had for forty-plus years,” Boyd told Harding in an August 11 story.
Boyd is not the only one reeling from Boise’s ever-increasing property taxes. People who live on the Boise Bench were hit this year with average property tax hikes of 20 percent.
And there’s little relief in sight for Boise residents. Mayor Dave Bieter, should he remain in office, wants to increase the city budget by the maximum allowed by state law in each of the next three or four years. Thus, as spending increases, Boise property owners will likely continue to experience large property tax hikes. Remember, those tax increases also ultimately push up rent and the price of goods and services.
In a recent forum, Wayne Richey, a fringe mayoral candidate, hit on an uncomfortable truth: There are two Boises now. Richey said there’s one Boise for the liberal elite where property tax hikes are a mere inconvenience. The other Boise, Richey observed, is a land where families can be crushed by Bieter’s big-spending agenda.
Richey is right.
It’s time to see the unseen and adjust policies accordingly. Boise need not cut back all of the spending, as that’s unworkable and unrealistic. City leaders should, though, scuttle all unnecessary projects, like the $105 million library, and prioritize tax relief over the shiny new objects.
Boise City Hall would do well to get its spending habits under control. If it doesn’t, Boise will transform from America’s most livable city to a livable city only for the elite.