By representatives Ilana Rubel, Lauren Necochea and Sally Toone
Idaho State House of Representatives
We couldn’t believe our eyes when we read a recent editorial from the GOP leadership of Idaho House, the local government scapegoat for the property tax crisis created by GOP lawmakers themselves. We need to set the record straight. While the county officials send you the bill, don’t blame the couriers. The breathtaking number on this bill is not due to overspending by local government – it is because of the disastrous policy adopted by GOP lawmakers.
First, GOP lawmakers ended the annual adjustment to homeowners’ exemption that kept pace with house prices, causing the property tax burden to shift dramatically from commercial properties to homeowners. So even though county budgets didn’t go up by a dime, lawmakers increased the property tax on your home every year. Meanwhile, many companies have seen their property tax bills go down while yours go up. GOP lawmakers have increased the exemption slightly this year, but not enough to address the damage they have inflicted on homeowners by ending the indexed exemption.
Second, they have severely underfunded schools, with the lowest investment in education per student in the country. This has forced voters who want adequate schools to pass bonds and levies, further raising property taxes. Want to fix the school roof before it collapses? Better to post a bond – the legislature won’t help. Do you want full-time kindergarten? Or enough operating funds to stay open five days a week? Better to impose a tax – the legislature will not help.
Third, for 14 years, GOP lawmakers stopped efforts to increase property tax assistance for low-income seniors and veterans. This year, they allowed a tiny increase in the amount of aid for some, but financed it by expelling 4,000 people from the program.
Fourth, they denied the local government their share of the Internet sales tax. You buy a shirt from Target, 11% of the sales tax collected goes to the local government. But if you buy that same shirt on Amazon, GOP lawmakers have blocked the local government from receiving the taxes collected. As sales have moved online, this has affected local governments’ sources of revenue and made them more dependent on property taxes.
Finally, the GOP bill, shamefully touted as “property tax relief“, limits the taxes that can be collected on the basis of new developments, preventing growth from paying for growth. Thus, existing owners must either pay more property taxes to make up for the deficit (as happened in Meridian, which was forced to increase property taxes by this legislation) or suffer cuts in government services. essential premises such as police, firefighters and paramedics. Cities like Caldwell and Ketchum, which were already operating on tight budgets, were forced to stop new construction, exacerbating the housing crisis in the state.
For years, GOP lawmakers blocked every bill that offered significant relief, like capping assessment increases, reinstating indexed exemption, treating Internet sales tax the same as regular sales tax; and increased tax assistance for low-income seniors and veterans. The result has been the rise in property taxes which push people out of their homes.
A recent study by the Idaho Office of Performance Evaluations found that it is not the âspending countiesâ that are causing the problem. The counties’ populations have grown by 39% in the past 20 years, but their budgets have only grown by 27%. The counties have extremely meager budgets that are underutilized in relation to population growth.
Rather than admitting to causing the problem or trying to fix it, GOP lawmakers are pointing fingers at innocent local government officials. You deserve the truth, and we hope you will respond by electing lawmakers who will work to lower your property taxes while preserving vital local services. Idahoans need leaders who deliver real solutions, not scapegoats.
Ilana Rubel is the Minority Leader in the Idaho House of Representatives, Lauren Necochea is the Deputy Minority Leader, and Sally Toone is the Minority Caucus Chair.