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Posts published in April 2016

Long game

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I'm trying to play this out . . . this whole Republican contested convention thing. How does that work if, say, no one walks in the door without having in hand an adequate number of delegate votes for president.

Let's game it out; or at least, weigh the probabilities. Call it a mental exercise to clean out a few cobwebs.

The best odds now favor businessman Donald Trump coming close to the major number of 1,237 votes, but falling short maybe 50 to 100. (He may still get there, but after Wisconsin the probabilities are running just slightly againn.) Texas Senator Ted Cruz is maybe 250 short of him; that gap could be closer or narrower, either one, by the time contests end in early June. Cruz is running much the better campaign, but Trump still has strong polling advantages in both of the magilla states of New York and California.

There will presumably be some attempt, after the statewide votes are done as of June 7, at a limited non-aggression pact between them. There will be attempts by other interests - maybe hoping for a third contender to ride in as a dark horse - to change the rules, to allow for additional possibilities for the nominee other than those two. Trump and Cruz have a joint interest in defeating that, so they may try and shut down rule changes. Both candidates would be interested in adjusting the rules in their own individual interests as well, so maybe any non-aggression pact would be reliant on allowing no rule changes at all. They could pull that off as long as, between them, they keep effective control of most of the delegates at the convention.

Okay: Suppose we then go to the first ballot with no significant rule changes. Both candidates will have been hustling hard to scrounge additional delegates in an effort to reach 1,237. (Those could come from undeclared officials who are automatic delegates, and maybe some from the few other candidates, like Marco Rubio or John Kasich, won.) It's possible, probably not likely, Trump could be close enough in his pre-convention count to pull that off. Cruz' campaign has been good at collecting stray delegates and probably could add significantly to his count, but enough to reach 1,237 before the first ballot? For now, that seems unlikely.

So we get to the first ballot and delegate votes are cast. The probability is that Trump comes in first, but still a little short of the magic 1,237, and Cruz comes in somewhere around 100 to 150 behind him, with a small scattering of other votes unwilling to line up behind either.

Then it gets interesting, because many - not all - of the delegates bound to Trump and Cruz on the first ballot are "released" on the second to do as they choose. (Most of the rest are similarly "released" after the second.) Presumably (and this may be a hotly-challenged point), the second round of balloting also will feature Trump and Cruz, and no one else. Will others be added? The existing rules don't seem to allow it at this point, allowing (as Cruz has repeatedly pointed out) a threshold of support in at least eight states, but that could be a matter of interpretation. It could be that after the second ballot, a well-organized effort might be able to come up to that threshold.

On that second ballot, who picks up? Well, more likely, it's: Who drops? Some of Trump's delegates may be there only as party officials fulfilling a role and, once unbound, they may start pushing for someone else. Who?

That would seem to suggest a serious organizing effort well in advance of the convention for someone else lying in wait, to become the recipient of those stray Trump and Cruz votes once they're available. But who will that be? House Speaker Paul Ryan seems likely to disown any efforts of that sort. But someone ought to be ready, otherwise chaos - in the form of dozens of possibly contenders, including local favorites from various states - will swiftly surface. If that happened, and it isn't brought quickly under control, you could get into a series of sudden cascading conflicts that could lead to ballots 3, 4, 5, 6 and beyond. This could go on for days.

Part of this relates to how many votes would Trump and Cruz each lose once delegates become unbound, a question no one yet can answer. (Could they persuade a few crossovers?) By the time they walk into the convention, they probably will have maxed out - at least for the moment - on the number of delegates they can easily get. After the second ballot, their numbers may be smaller but their opponents may have multiplied, absent some kind of strong organizing effort up front.

If there is a major organizing effort up front, Trump and Cruz could use that as a lever to keep their troops in line, at least for a while. And they could re-up their non-aggression pact in opposition to some new third contender, because they surely would, between them, continue to command the loyalty of more than half of the total delegates.

And that's about as far as I can take this exercise for the moment: A cycle of failed nomination votes with a built-in dynamic that keeps anyone from breaking free with more than half the total number of delegates.

Eventually, sheer exhaustion may take over, some key player or more than one will drop out, and someone will emerge. How long will it take for that to happen? The longest national party convention, the Democratic in 1924, took about two weeks and 103 ballots. That nomination, by the way, went to the lesser-known John W. Davis, after the two top contenders at the start of balloting pulled out. Davis went on to lose in a landslide to Republican Calvin Coolidge.

And that was with a mighty incentive the delegates of 2016 won't have: They didn't have air conditioning back then.

How long might the Republicans stay in Cleveland? A long time unless someone, somewhere, beats the odds.

Small packages

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She was smaller, or tinier, than I had imagined she would be. But actors and actresses almost always are. On celluloid they are always “larger than life.” In person initially they appear to be pretty much like everyone else and thus inevitably one hides the disappointment that someone they had looked up to was indeed a mere, normal mortal.

Even though just four foot and eleven inches, Anna Pearce was clearly different. Her eyes danced. Her smile was genuine. Her questions incisive. Even if one had not read her painfully honest autobiography, Call Me Anna, one could tell that “Patty Duke” was a survivor, a person at last at peace with herself, comfortable in her personna, full of energy.

The cliché, dynamite comes in small packages, immediately came to mind. Several things surprised me, though. She had a wide-ranging intelligence that reflected being well read and she had a deep sense of compassion for her fellow man. One could tell that because of her own struggles she had an innate ability to empathize with those she met because she knew we all have our own demons and struggle to various degrees with the consequences of poor decisions, bad choices, or serious health challenges.

So, just what had brought Anna Pearce to the Spokane office of The Gallatin Group, a public affairs and strategic planning firm I had founded in 1989?

The immediate catalyst was her nephew, Mike Kennedy, a fellow traveler of mine in the world of Idaho Democratic politics. He had convinced his aunt to meet to discuss an assessment of her running for public office.

Mrs. Pearce was brutally candid about Hollywood having few roles for aging actresses. A Paul Newman or a Robert Redford can have a starring role no matter how many wrinkles they have, but how many starring roles are there for aging actresses? With the possible exception of Susan Sarandon, there were damn few, Mrs. Pearce opined.

Then in her 50’s, she wanted to know whether political office would be a viable way for her to continue to serve her community or her adopted state. She wasn’t seeking a new ego-gratifying role. To the contrary, she knew she had much to offer and there was a genuine desire to want to know if it would be viewed that way by Idahoans.

Some may scoff at the thought of Patty Duke running for any office in Idaho, whether local or statewide, as fantasy, especially as a Democrat. However, the least bit of research would quickly show she had been a successful president of the Screen Actor’s Guild, the over-arching union that represents all the various guilds in negotiations with the studios.

The post requires intelligence, toughness, political and negotiating skills not to mention the support of a vast number of narcissistic actors and actresses. By all accounts Anna Pearce did an excellent job.

The post had also been the springboard into elective politics for another SAG president, a fellow by the name of Ronald Reagan.

To her credit, she wanted a candid assessment of perceived strengths and weaknesses. To that end she invited us into her home to meet husband Mike and other family members. She and her nephew also flew to Boise for a private dinner at the Arid Club with Governor Andrus. During several meetings we discussed her views on various Idaho issues as well as what she could bring to various political offices.

We also examined a variety of potential posts from Kootenai County commisssioner to the office of governor. After several weeks, we met to discuss my conclusion that despite the considerable assets she could bring to any office, she should not run.

She could have easily handled any issue relating to her past struggles. She would have been taken seriously becaue of name recognition alone. Her command of the issues of the day would have been obvious. Her genuine compassion would have come across.

The downside she could not surmount though would have been her identification as a Democrat. In the few short years since Cecil Andrus had turned the governorship over to Phil Batt the Democratic party had moved away from the lunch-bucket carrrying, fiscally conservative but socially compassionate party of Andrus and had evolved into the wine and cheese liberal party painted by Republicans.

It would have been too easy to turn Anna Pearce into a caricature of Patty Duke. It would not have been fair, but politics, like life is especially unfair.

Given the opportunity she would have been a successful governor or county commissioner, but we’ll never know. Anna passed away peacefully last week, at age 69, after receiving the Last Rites from a priest of her native Catholic faith.

She had been ill for a few days. Nonetheless she and her husband left their home the evening of March 22nd because she wanted to do her civic duty and participate in the Democratic caucus like thousands of other Idahoans. It was her last appearance.

I drew one other conclusion: Anna Pearce really was larger than life and much more than just Patty Duke.

Idaho lost one of its best.

One size can fit all

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Sitting here next to the ocean, it’s easy to get disconnected from reality with waves hitting the shore, sea birds making their unusual noises, breezes filling the local air with smells of the Pacific. So what you’re about to read may be just the mental wanderings of an old guy drifting along in a fantasy world of his own. But I had these “peculiar” thoughts long before I was told where we’d spend our retirement years.

To wit: give up on this absolute electoral mess we’ve created in the 50 states and vote for presidential and congressional candidates on one, uniform, federal election ballot using the same rules. Fifty states using the same ballot which would have room for their own races but operating under one set of rules. Same qualifications for electors. Same way to determine electors.

Our national elections have devolved into mess after mess - challenge after challenge - lawsuit after lawsuit. But it’s gotten even worse with last year’s SCOTUS decision essentially gutting the Voting Rights Act and various GOP-dominated legislatures reconstructing election roadblocks for minorities. Now, even candidates are talking about suing states over delegate selection and appointment.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a firm believer in “state’s rights.” But congress after congress - regardless of party dominance - has chipped away at the original intent of “state’s rights” in many programs. State operation of educational and health systems are two major areas where the feds have usurped states in all or partial control. There are many others. That’s not going to change. We’ve accepted the incursions and even gotten used to them.

When it comes to elections, we’ve created a shambles. Some states use the caucus system - others closed primaries - still others with open primaries. One just has a meeting. Anyone who thinks the national convention halls are filled with people accurately representing the folks at home is living in the Land of Oz. We’ve got delegates, super delegates and others - some sworn to this or that candidate and some with no restrictions on whom they’ll bestow their voting “honor.” Horse trading votes at national political conventions is still alive and well.

Personally, I’ve never liked the caucus method. Nor do I see any real benefit to freedom-of-choice in a closed primary. Especially in Idaho where Republicans - in charge of everything - have conned all taxpayers into ponying up $2 million to pay for their closed GOP primary. Legalized thievery. Because they could.

Candidates - national and otherwise - get tangled up in a patchwork of differing laws, unique financial reporting requirements and other obstacles. Trump’s threatening to sue one state. Sanders and Clinton protest some other outcome(s). The whole process is a mess.

We and the candidates should expect - and demand - equity, equality and some common sense be applied to running such important elections. One set of qualifications for candidacy. One set of qualifications for electors. One set of qualifications - caucus or primary - for national parties everywhere.

If you’ve been licensed to pilot an aircraft, you did so federally with the FAA. I’ve often thought a national driver’s license would be a good idea, too. I’ve been licensed in nine states. Those nine exams were pretty much the same. Very little difference. I’ve been told one license wouldn’t work because “Florida drivers don’t have to learn rules for driving in the snow or on ice.” That would be a valid argument if Florida drivers only drove in Florida and never traveled to Denver or Cheyenne.

But to believe in the possibility of one uniform election system is to believe in unicorns. It won’t happen. “State’s rights” don’t you know? We’ll continue to limp along and see it get even worse before those in charge of such things admit the system doesn’t function as it should.

There’s a certain irony here. Seems to me the “state’s rights” believers should be the very voices supporting a uniform national election code to assure fairness and equity in the freedoms they loudly advocate.

Oregon - with its mail and electronic voting system - would be a good model for the other 49 to examine as part of a change to one national set of rules for elections. It’s much cleaner, cheaper to run, easier to vote, no long lines on election day, simple “motor voter” registration and nearly no fraud. Minuscule compared to the Republican-imagined “massive fraud” in other states. Except for a couple of Oregon GOP election officials.

But, again, it ain’t gonna happen. The idea of a clean, uniform, simple national elections code is just - well - a pipe dream. In the head of one old guy sitting on the beach and listening to the waves.

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A unique bit of Northwest history (and the photo here) from the Washington secretary of state's office . . .

Frederick Trump, grandfather of reality show host and presidential candidate Donald Trump, emigrated the US from Germany in 1885 at the age of 16. Soon after his arrival in Seattle in 1891, he purchased a restaurant, which also offered “private rooms for ladies,” located in Seattle’s red-light district. He operated the Dairy Restaurant until 1893, when he moved to Monte Cristo to build a hotel catering to gold and silver prospectors. With the start of the Yukon Gold Rush in 1897, Trump returned to Seattle and opened another restaurant, this time outside the red-light district. He sold the restaurant and his other local properties and left Seattle for the Yukon the following year. He never returned to Washington State.

Growing richer

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A guest opinion in a recent issue of The Idaho Statesman suggests that minimum wage laws are an anathema to a free market society, destined to result in economic ruin for us all. The article is a recitation of hard right theology dressed up to look like sound economic theory, but is really unadulterated poppycock.

First dose of balderdash is the claim that the higher the price of labor, the lower the demand for it will be. This phony theorem is advanced to support the argument that increasing the guaranteed minimum wage will cause a correlative decrease in employment. The contention is, in a word, nonsense. It comes from substituting labels and torturing the basic supply and demand curve, which does hold that where supply is fixed, the higher the price of goods, the lower the demand. However, when measuring the cost of labor, the supply and demand curve usually has no application.

Generally, the cost of labor is a made up of a combination of elements, starting with the fluidity of the labor pool combined with functions of scarcity and specialty, and overlaid with the options open to the individual worker. This means that where there are few laborers available to accomplish the tasks demanded, the cost goes up. This was demonstrated in the shale oil fields of the Midwest where pay rates skyrocketed when the fields were first opened with (relatively) few laborers in the area. As workers flocked to the oil fields, and as the pool of available workers grew, the pay rates normalized somewhat. Then, as the price of crude plummeted, and as some owners began taking shale wells off production, the demand for labor dropped precipitously. Unemployment arrived in some areas, and pay rates plummeted further. The point to take away here is that demand drives the cost of labor – not the other way around.

On the other hand, in established markets at the bottom of our economy, where the greatest sea of the unemployed are to be found – the supply of unskilled labor is plentiful and demand is not an element. Fluidity, scarcity and specialty are not involved. The job seekers at the bottom are seldom able to move to follow or seek out new opportunities. They do not possess qualifications or skills which would narrow the supply. The price of labor here gravitates to minimum levels established by tolerance among employers, not to levels arrived at by negotiations with employees. The owner needs a certain level of labor – to get his field harvested, for example, or to get his takeout joint staffed with hamburger flippers – which he can fill by simply paying whatever the “going rate” is. He need not pay more, for the supply of unskilled labor is ample, and if he offers to pay less, the worker can find equivalent work for the “going rate” elsewhere in the same area. At the bottom of the pile, the cost of labor is a limiting factor, not a deciding factor.

In the world we live in, and in the general case, the labor pool is more fixed than fluid and cannot react. One form of strengthening the position of a relatively fixed labor pool is organization – labor unions insert the element of scarcity into the formula and change the balance of power. Strong labor unions are probably the most significant factor in creating a middle class in the industrialized middle of our economy. In many states, right-to-work laws have been enacted limiting the effectiveness of unions to organize. In these states, the wage rates are usually considerably lower than in states with strong unions.

Without the ability of labor to relocate freely, or to organize into effective unions, and absent some form of regulation, the bottom wage could theoretically decline to a penny. If that became the going rate, the owner would be under no motivation to pay more. Overall scarcity will affect the labor pool, but not the individual worker’s need or desire for higher pay. In a scarce market, the worker would never be called upon to work for a penny because the guy across the street will pay a dime, or more, and so forth, until an equilibrium with the level of scarcity is reached.

In the world market, this allows owners to move production from the United States to other areas of the world, where the going rates for labor are indexed much lower than here. It has also resulted in owners relocating production facilities within the United States – away from the traditional industrial states with strong, well organized unions, for example, into states with right to work laws that favor management and offer opportunity to obtain labor at lesser rates.

But in the true unskilled, unqualified bottom rungs of our economy, there has to be regulation to avoid abuse and exploitation. Even Adam Smith recognized that the greed inherent to a true free market would require regulation for the protection of the masses. We have never had a true free market economy, and would not tolerate it if we ever did.

The second dose of blarney claimed by the far right is that imposition of a higher minimum wage will have a disastrous impact on employment. The notion that raising the minimum wage to a reasoned level would have any measurable impact upon employment in the economy is a blatant, pants-on-fire, bald faced, whopper. In all of the history of the federally mandated minimum wage, being since the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, or 78 years, there is no instance where the reasoned addition, imposition or increase of a minimum wage has had any measurable net effect on the overall economy generally, or upon net levels employment within the economy specifically.

In a landmark study in 1994, two economists compared the effect on employment in the restaurant industry following a 1992 modest increase in the New Jersey minimum wage. They concluded that the rise in the minimum wage had no impact upon employment. More recently, a 2013 Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) review of multiple studies over a 10 to 12 year period since 2000 indicated that there was little or no employment response to the increases in the minimum wage that had occurred.

In a more specific study in 2014, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that if the minimum wage was raised from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour, being an increase approximately to the poverty line, this might lead to a reduction of 500,000 entry-level jobs, for an impact on GNP of around $3.5 million. But the trade-off would be a substantial increase the income of over 16.5 million workers who were paid at or less than the bottom wage rate. If one assumes that the increase would directly increase consumer spending, the result would be an increase in GNP of something in the range of $48 million -- which would offset negative impact many times over.

Another CEPR study in 2014 found that job creation within the United States is faster within states that raised their minimum wage. The study observed that in 2014, the area with the highest minimum wage in the nation, Washington D.C., exceeded the national average for job growth in the United States.

The final dose of hogwash delivered from the teapot right is the contention that any increase in the minimum wage will be passed on directly to the consumer through increased prices. The hyperbole is that the lower cost family cafes will disappear into mechanized do-it-yourself places with only the upper crust establishments surviving. While increasing labor costs do put pressure on management, there is no certainty that the increased costs will necessarily result in increased prices. The high rates of profitability being experienced by the upper levels under present conditions would indicate that margins are more than sufficient to absorb some level of additional cost before price is necessarily affected.

Price is a function of demand, not cost – and if demand will not support an increased price, management will have to accommodate the effect of increased labor costs somewhere else. Better management practices is always a possibility, as is accepting lower profit margins. While marginal operations may fail, the blame is far more likely to be upon management practices than upon any modest rise of the minimum wage floor.

The other side of the whole argument is that the far right objection and continued blockage of any increase in the minimum wage regulation is a contributor to the stagnation the middle class that has sustained in our economy for close to 30 years. At present minimum wage level, the bottom levels of income are below the levels of poverty. This has resulted in welfare supplements like food stamps, Medicaid and direct aid to the working poor. This allows the upper levels of management and owners to enjoy a heightened profit margin at the expense of the taxpayer, which one would expect the right wing to violently oppose.

Our economy continues to grow at a steady clip; the higher brackets of individual earnings, at the entrepreneurial management and owner levels, have seen record increases. However, the middle classes and below have been flat-lined for the years. The result is a growing disparity between those upper range income levels and the levels of the middle class and below.

Most commentators of political science, economics, history and sociology who have been studying this phenomena believe it imperative that the growing income imbalance be aggressively addressed. A strong adjustment to the federally guaranteed minimum wage would be a key ingredient and a good beginning.

State primary reflections

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When the Idaho Legislature adjourned on the early side this year, the common comment was that they had to get home to deal with the primary elections coming up.

Well, some of them did. About a third of Idaho’s legislators do face primary contests, and since the bulk of the state is one-party territory, that’s where challenges will occur if they’re going to at all. Those elections will nonetheless be worth a close watch for indicators for how Idaho is changing. If it is.

Nearly all of the legislative primary contests are on the Republican side – I counted just three on the Democratic, and just one of those involves an incumbent (Representative John McCrostie of Garden City). Of the Republican contests, some seem likely to split into the “insurgent against establishment” mold, though not all do. Some may become quite personal.

A few challengers jump out because they’ve been visible before. Marvin “Chick” Heileson of Idaho Falls twice ran hard against U.S. Representative Mike Simpson but this year localizes his sights to the Idaho Legislature, and specifically to veteran Dell Raybould of Rexburg. Heileson was a hard-charging Tea Party candidate against Simpson, with support from Club for Growth and an issue base focused on national subjects. What his state-level campaign against Raybould will look like is unclear.

But we may have a better idea of the campaign to come over in Boise, where Rod Beck is running again. Beck, who served several terms in the state Senate and has run unsuccessfully for higher office and the legislature since, this year emerged as state chair for the Donald Trump presidential campaign. He is challenging a very different kind of person, second-term House member Patrick McDonald. McDonald, a former U.S. marshal for Idaho with a career in law enforcement, has been a generally uncontroversial and low-key representative. But Beck (whose projects have included closing the Republican primary to party members only) has a way of stirring things up; watch for some headlines over in District 15.

That however will be one of the few cases of primary contest excitement in the Boise area. Most of the primary contests are located in more rural reaches of the state.

The most significant could be in the far north, in District 1 – up by the Canadian border. There, the new (as of this session) co-chair of the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, Shawn Keough, is being challenged again in the primary, this time by Glenn Rohrer. Keough has been challenged regularly from the activist right, four times before this year in the last decade. She won the first first three by lopsided margins, with two-thirds of the vote or better. In 2014, however, she was down to 53.8% of the vote, and Rohrer has started early and energetically this time.

That may be the contest which sets the political tone, more than any other, for this year’s Idaho primaries. Both U.S. House seats have primary challenges to the incumbents, but these were late-emerging and have the look of longshots. There is also, actually, a primary contest between two would-be standard bearers for the Constitution Party (one of those being the frequent contender Pro-Life from Letha), but that’s not likely to impact the state a great deal.

This is a season of intense national discussion and dissension over what the two national parties are all about. For a sense of where Idaho politics plays into that, and may be going, the legislative races may be as good a place to look as any.

The Vista sidewalk

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A new consultant within the office of Mayor Dave Bieter’s Team Dave has come up with a “PERFECT VISTA VISION” which he claims will stimulate business and reduce automobile traffic.

Conveyor sidewalk in O'Hare Airport in Chicago, similar to Vista proposal aviation, aircraft, travel, airplane, plane, flying, take off landing, jet, aerospace, airline, aeroplane, airport, transportation
Conveyor sidewalk in O’Hare Airport in Chicago, similar to Vista proposal
aviation, aircraft, travel, airplane, plane, flying, take off landing, jet, aerospace, airline, aeroplane, airport, transportation

Sloof Lirpa comes from Sweden and GUARDIAN sources say he is working on a low profile plan for Vista to coincide with the “Energize Vista” grant.

Lirpa told the GUARDIAN, “With this broad roadway connecting Boise’s two important transportation hubs–the Airport and the downtown multimodal transit center–we were asked to come up with a plan that would ENERGIZE Vista. And what better way to do that than get people out of their cars!”

He said, “our exhaustive research meshes well with the plans of the mayor and council to eventually eliminate automobile traffic in the downtown and Vista areas, creating greater business opportunities on the Vista Bench.”

In a nutshell here is the plan:
–Eliminate the two curbside lanes of auto travel and create a TRANSIT CORRIDOR down the middle of the street. Research both in Europe and South America shows that with more bikes and the new trolley (the Trolley is projected for the year 2020, hence PERFECT VISION), business will flourish.

–Create an automated walkway–like the ones in airports– which will run at 3 miles per hour. That means if someone is walking at a modest two miles per hour, they will actually be going 5 mph. With the moving sidewalk running down the middle of the transportation corridor with a buffer zone of curb and grass on the street side and a concrete safety barrier you will be able to walk the length of Vista in less than half an hour! There would be exits at each intersection.

–Under the transit corridor concept, a limited number of cars will have access to the Vista business area, but no left turns will be allowed. They are working with ACHD to create roundabouts at Overland and near the Depot. All streets entering Vista will have a mandatory right turn to eliminate the need for traffic signals and cross traffic. Motorists will be able to change directions of travel using the conveniently located roundabouts.

Lirpa said, “If we are able to facilitate this innovative concept using our vast experience, Boise could easily be not only the “most bike friendly” city in America, it could truly live up to Mayor Bieter’s goal of being the ‘most livable city in America’.”

Money is always a concern, but with a modest local improvement tax, a business occupancy tax for each tenant, a business improvement district tax, and other revenue sources such as Federal grants and a local option sales tax, Team Dave says the plan is viable. Estimates range from $96 million to $400 million, depending on how much public art is included in the form of statues and other design elements.

Interesting to note SLOOF LIRPA could spell his name backwards today for added effect.