Last week, the city of Boise handed out nearly $400,000 in community reinvestment grants, money that city officials say neighborhood associations will use to brighten up living space. About 5 percent of that money – $19,265 to be exact – will be spent on painting art on traffic boxes around the city.

Not everyone is thrilled with the city’s decision to hand out money for the boxes, however.  Former Boise City Council candidate Dave Litster told Wednesday that instead of doling out money for new art, the city should have decreased spending and reduced the property tax burden on residents.  “That might not be the best use of taxpayer funds,” said Litster.

He  said that Boise residents struggling to make ends meet each month would have likely appreciated lower tax rates over the new art projects.  “I know I would have rather seen that money in my pocket than have some new boxes downtown painted,” Litster said.

And while $20,000 doesn’t seem like much when spread out over Boise’s more than 200,000 residents, Litster questioned the need for the entire $400,000 in grants.  “The city should find ways to cut back,” he concluded.

But one official, City Council President Maryanne Jordan, defends the art on the traffic boxes and the reinvestment program.  “It’s sort of economic development tool,” she explained.  Aesthetics of city life, she said, change the culture of the community and help bring new employers to the area.  “We can all agree that clean, attractive, and vibrant cities are more inviting to businesses,” Jordan mused.

Jordan also defended the art as serving a practical purpose. “There’s been very little graffiti,” she noted, saying that the decorated boxes help cut down on graffiti and “tagging.”

The Community Reinvestment Grant Program is paid for through the city’s general fund.  Projects range from establishment of community gardens to installation of historic street lamps or construction of safer sidewalks.  Accredited neighborhood associations applied for nearly $850,000 in project money this year, though only $382,000 was awarded.

This is not the first time the city has allocated money for an activity like this. The city awarded $20,000 to the Boise Downtown Association in 2009 to paint five of the traffic boxes, which are normally a shiny silver color.

The same association was awarded $3,000 to paint one box in 2010.

This year’s money for art on traffic boxes will pay for more boxes to be painted.  A total of seven boxes will receive a new look thanks to taxpayer dollars.  The West Downtown Neighborhood Association will care for two of the boxes, while the Downtown Boise Neighborhood Association will again work on five of them.

It is unknown which boxes in downtown Boise will be painted as part of the project.


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About The Author

Dustin Hurst serves as the Communication Director for the Idaho Freedom Foundation. He graduated from Boise State in 2009. His work has been featured by Fox News, Townhall, Public Sector Inc., the Daily Caller, Reason, Human Events, the Spokesman Review and more. He and his wonderful wife Julia have two cute kids. The family resides in Middleton.


  1. According to the statistics thrown out last week by NEA president,Dennis Van Roeke, this $20K would pay for 40% of a teacher’s salary.

    Do you really want art in downtown Boise? What about the children? I agree with Dave Litster, we shouldn’t be spending money on projects like this, at least not right now. $2800 per telephone box, that’s a lot money, surely it could be used on something more

  2. Do I really want art in downtown Boise? Why yes, yes I do. I want culture, vibrancy, economic activity, excitement, all that. Oh, and something to fill in that Big Hole would be nice.

    I went to the develop.idaho conference put on by the Idaho Technology Council this week. Mark Solon of Highway 12 Ventures was one of the speakers, and what he had to say about investment and entrepreneurship in two cities that are light years ahead of Boise–Salt Lake City, and Boulder, Colorado–was very interesting.

    I don’t know how he feels about spending $20k on art, but I’d be a lot more interested to hear his opinion than a “Former Boise City Council candidate’s.”

  3. This says it all, this is why we elect the best and the brightest. When you’re down and out and the kids are starving, you’ve lost your job, your saving is gone, gas is through the roof, taxes are going up…what do ya do, you spend tax dollars and paint pretty flowers around town. That’s what ya do. Just the other day as I was feeding my 4 year old a half eaten taco out of a trash bin I pointed out a painted flower on a traffic box and my little screamed with glee and now he wants to eat out of that same trash bin everyday so he can look at flowers while he eats trash because our economy sucks.

  4. Are you serious? We have people who can’t pay their electrical bill, can’t buy needed medicine,eat one meal a day and we are going to paint traffic control boxes? I tell ya what, give me $10.00 per box and I will paint them.. GRAY! The I know an 87 year old woman who needs cardiac medicine and I will take the rest of the money you are spending on BS and buy it for her. What a STUPID IDEA

  5. Do I really want art in downtown Boise? why yes I do, . . but don’t our bonehead politicians know that many local artists would be lined up to do it for free?, . . Seriously, Why did we cut education, if wasting money is still going to be the norm for these idiots?

  6. Painting traffic control boxes with artwork is a waste of tax money. Painting traffic control boxes concrete gray, with the words “Boise, Idaho, Rest In Peace” is much more realistic. They are shaped a bit like headstones, and would make a fitting tribute to a city with a history of having local government more concerned with the revenues generated by nearly unbridled real estate development, at the expense of quality of life.
    The City should stop insulting our citizens by pretending everything is rosy and work to improve the situation with solid programs designed for economic recovery and growth, not with smoke and mirrors designed to draw in out of state businesses who would quickly fold because what’s left of the local workforce can’t afford put gasoline in their cars. You want art? Ask Albertson’s for money for art. They just got my last dollar by overcharging me for a bag of dried beans.

  7. Given our present circumstances, painting traffic control boxes with artwork is an obscene waste of tax money. If they need paint they should be painted concrete gray, with the words “Boise, Idaho, Rest In Peace.” That is much more realistic. They are shaped a bit like headstones, and would make a fitting tribute to a city government that for the last 30 years has recklessly promoted urban expansion to collect greater tax revenues. We did not ask them to sacrifice the quality of life we treasured for a poor imitation of a Los Angeles suburb, but that’s what we got. Now the real estate bubble they encouraged has burst, our jobs are gone, and the city is dying due to lack of truly progressive recovery plans. And the city council wants to give the illusion that life in Boise is wonderful with artwork on traffic boxes?
    The City should stop insulting our citizens by pretending everything is rosy and instead improve the situation with solid programs designed for economic recovery and growth. Art on our streets is a poorly conceived smoke and mirrors trick designed to draw in out-of-state businesses. Those businesses would probably quickly fold because what’s left of the local workforce can’t afford to put gasoline in their cars, or can’t work other than 9-5 because there’s such limited bus service.
    If the city council wants public art so they can pretend life is normal they should seek funding from the few left who have money – don’t demand it from desperately struggling taxpayers.

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