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Boise approves $60,000 for education campaign in the next election: The City Council says spending airport funds to inform the public about a ballot measure is legal. [The Idaho Statesman, Boise]
[July 21, 2010]

Boise approves $60,000 for education campaign in the next election: The City Council says spending airport funds to inform the public about a ballot measure is legal. [The Idaho Statesman, Boise]

(Idaho Statesman (Boise) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 21--WHAT HAPPENED? The Boise City Council on Tuesday approved paying Gallatin Public Affairs for "educational outreach" about a proposed amendment to the Idaho Constitution. The amendment, which must be approved by voters, would allow a public airport to incur debt without voter approval, so long as no tax dollars are used to repay the debt.

ANY VOTES AGAINST IT? Councilman T.J. Thomson cast the only no vote, saying he supports the resolution, but not the expense.

"I cannot justify spending these funds at this time," he said. Boise leaders are grappling with a $3.9 million budget hole.

WHEN CAN A PUBLIC AGENCY SPEND MONEY ON AN ELECTION ISSUE? Public funds may be spent to encourage voter participation or to represent fairly both sides of an issue. Funds may not be spent to support or to defeat a particular ballot issue, according to the attorney general's office.

"I intend to watch very closely the information that is produced to make sure that it does in fact convey factual, objective information so that our voters can make an informed decision," Councilwoman Elaine Clegg said.

THE LINE BETWEEN EDUCATION AND ADVOCACY "It is a tough balancing line between providing information and advocating on behalf of the constitutional amendment," said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University political science professor emeritus. "This amendment however is very complex. There are a lot of issues that need explanation, like the meaning of ordinary and necessary and how this affects operations of the airport." HOW WILL THE CITY PAY FOR THE EDUCATION CAMPAIGN? The public relations firm will be paid with airport money, not taxpayer dollars. The airport is a self-sustaining city division.

"These are airport funds that come from the airlines, rental car agencies ... these are not funds that come from Boise taxpayers," Councilman Alan Shealy said.

"The $60,000 that's being spent ... it's a relative pittance compared to the amount that can potentially be saved" by enacting the measure, he said.

According to the attorney general's office, all money belonging to a government agency is considered public money, whether it comes from taxpayer dollars, fees, bonds, grants or other sources.

CAN PUBLIC OFFICIALS STATE THEIR POSITIONS ON THE ISSUE? Yes. The law does not prohibit elected officials from stating their position or passing a resolution.

Cynthia Sewell: 377-6428 To see more of The Idaho Statesman, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.idahostatesman.com Copyright (c) 2010, The Idaho Statesman, Boise Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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