For all its dawdling for two-thirds of the session, the Idaho Legislature moved some major legislation before taking two weeks of recess off to squelch the spreading COVID-19 virus.
When they return April 6, the measures include a major income tax reduction and an infusion of money to upgrade Idaho’s highways and bridges. These will help Idaho citizens immensely and should be applauded as examples of what can be done if there is the will.
Sure, legislators could have done more on other tax proposals, such as a sales tax reduction and local property taxes, but these are separate issues. They were included in the initial drafts, but neither gained enough broad support. That’s the way legislative politics works sometimes; ideas die if they can’t win wide backing.
Nonetheless, the income tax reduction is indeed a big deal. It drops the top tax rate from 6.9 percent to 6.5 in all brackets, saving Idaho income tax payers almost $200 million annually. That’s money left in your pocket. An additional section gives taxpayers a one-time, 9 percent rebate from state income tax paid on 2019 income; on a $4,000 tax bill from that year, you’d get a rebate of $360. That’s more money left in your pocket.
The measures still need Senate approval and Gov. Brad Little’s ok, but they’re close to what Little proposed in his budget address.
The vote on the income tax reduction in the House was 54 Republicans voting yes and all 12 House Democrats voting no. How can Democrats not want you to keep more of your own money? Simple. They and their liberal friends in the media prefer a larger government with more and more spending on social programs. What they really want is to take more of the money you earned and give it to someone who didn’t earn it. That’s pure “wealth distribution” right out of the Bernie Sanders economics textbook.
But this tax reduction is, by definition, a reduction of taxes for those who pay them, not a gimme-gimme entitlement for those who didn’t. You work, you earn income, you pay taxes on it. Wisely, the House vote leaves you with more of your own money, and returns some beyond that. Simple, really.
So the next time you hear Idaho Democrats or media guru say they support tax reductions, you can ask why they didn’t support this one, totaling almost $400 million? Get ready to hear the usual cries of “we-need-this, we-need-that” rhetoric, or listen for the to try to shift the discussion to so-called Republican failures. It’s classic ‘what-about-ism.” Humm. there are a lot of folks in other states who’d love to have the coming tax reductions and rebate, much less both. (Idaho Press, 3/17).
The transportation bill will open the way for major upgrades to the state’s highway corridors which we all know are barely keeping up with traffic increases. Idaho is one of the fastest growing states; more people mean more vehicles, from autos to trucks.
The new bill allows transportation projects to come on line faster, from design to build to opening. It allows the state Department of Transportation to bond construction costs, with the bonds secured by sales tax revenues coming from increased online purchasing. Up to $1billion could be available.
The new bill also diverts more money to local highway districts, which have generally not been able to stay ahead of heavier use, but doesn’t fall back on local property taxes. That should help the many local highway districts which often have responsibility for county roads.
Both income tax reduction and the highways proposal will need Senate approval and there may well be alterations as both bodies reconvene in nine days. And there are some other important issues to be resolved, including COVID-19 federal stimulus money (Associated Press, 3/20), property tax fairness, limitations (if any) on the governor’s emergency powers and revisiting the initiative process to limit undue out-of-state influence.
The Legislature also will use the recess to examine federal guidelines on the latest COVID-19 stimulus package, estimated to bring an additional $2 billion to Idaho. The recess will also give legislators and Gov. Brad Little a chance to do further planning on how to best allocate those funds in a “prudent” fashion. (Associated Press, 3/18).
There’s a lot on the legislative “to do” list, but the tax measure and transportation funding are good starting points.
Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee. Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He can be reached at Stephen_Hartgen@hotmail.com.