Since July 25, when Idaho Governor Jim Risch called a special legislative session and released the one piece of legislation it will be allowed to consider, two conflicting tendencies have been headed for a showdown. Come Friday, when the session convenes and the dramatic choice is made, we all get to learn something - through this conflict - about the character of Idaho politics.
The conflict is not over the core subject of the session, which is property taxes, which have been rising rapidly in a number of parts of Idaho, and which in many cases has caused a great deal of distress. A combination of factors, including but not limited to the recent boom in housing sales prices and therefore values, has made that a widespread concern. The question is what exactly to do about it.
Risch's proposal, released in detail when he called the session, is summed up on his web site:
"Removing the 3-mil maintenance and operations levy will reduce property taxes statewide by $260 million. Risch proposes adding one-cent to the sales tax to bring in $210 million annually. The net overall reduction in taxes is $50 million. The one-cent sales tax increase would be effective October 1 if passed by the special session of the Idaho Legislature. The governor would use $50 million of the surplus to make up the difference between the property tax cut and the sales tax increase. He would also transfer $100 million to an education 'rainy day' savings account to protect education funding from any future economic downturn. The state’s fiscal year ended with just over $200 million more in the bank than projected. The proposal also includes an advisory vote on the November 2006 ballot." None of that is in dispute, either.
The issues are whether this is the best way to ease the property tax explosion; and if so, whether legislators will insist on considering options. Risch's legislative call appears ironclad: Either approve his idea, or go home having done nothing. (more…)