As an Idaho taxpayer and state representative, it is my priority to address the property tax problem that is crushing everyday Idahoans. Governor Little has proposed the use of pandemic relief funds for lowering property taxes related to emergency services. Let’s be clear: this is a temporary fix for a broken system. Property values are still rising, and we shouldn’t kick this can down the road any further.

Idahoans want strong schools for our children, safe roads that get them to work, and a reliable emergency response system. They understand that our property taxes provide revenue for these crucial services and much more. What Idahoans expect is that the revenue will be raised fairly, and this is where the state is falling short. Property taxes are rising at an unsustainable rate and we must enact real solutions urgently.

As a member of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, I hear you and I agree: I don’t want our elders choosing between medication and food just to stay in the homes they’ve worked their entire lives to pay off. Homeowners in Idaho find themselves surrounded by rapid growth, traffic, and increased costs for daily life. Unfortunately, the Idaho Legislature has enacted policies that continue to shift the tax load onto homeowners and away from other taxpayers, and the house refused to hear workable solutions to reverse this trend.

Most homeowners receive an exemption — a portion of their home’s value that is considered non-taxable. Before 2016, homeowner’s exemptions were indexed to inflation, so as values rose, exemptions increased as well. But in 2016, exemptions were capped — a major victory for business lobbyists and one more straw on the camel’s back for the rest of us. If I had been in the legislature at the time, I would have voted against this bill (as did every Democrat in office) because one could have easily predicted how this would hurt regular Idahoans. We have seen the shift in Ada County. Today, homeowners pay 70 percent of the tax load and the rest is divided among commercial and agricultural property owners. It is well past time to restore the inflation-index to the homeowner’s exemption and make sure others pay their fair share.

Another avenue for help is Idaho’s circuit-breaker. This property tax assistance program helps seniors and veterans with disabilities with a portion of their property tax if they are income-eligible. Yet even with the circuit-breaker, low-income seniors are paying four times more in property taxes today than they did in 2006! Senate Bill 1417 was introduced in 2020 to update the circuit-breaker and allow more Idahoans to participate, but House leadership refused to hear it.

To make matters worse, there are 73 property tax exemptions written into state law. Entities including big business, developers, and oil and gas companies don’t pay property taxes in many cases. These exemptions are rarely reviewed and don’t expire.

Finally, it must be noted that a large portion of education funding was shifted from the state responsibility and placed on individual school districts beginning in 2006. Since then, levies and bonds have added to property taxes. The Idaho Constitution requires that the state provide a “free and thorough” education, but schools are given inadequate resources to meet this obligation. The state also prevents school districts from assessing impact fees on developers to pay for the new school buildings that growth demands.

Here’s what I’ll be working for in the 2021 legislative session: increase the homeowner’s exemption. Increase the circuit-breaker to assist more seniors and veterans with disabilities with their property taxes. Fund schools so bonds and levies are unnecessary. Devote a greater portion of sales tax revenues to benefit the cities and counties where they are generated. Allow school districts to assess impact fees on new development to pay for new school buildings, so that growth pays for itself. The State Office of Performance Evaluations is systematically reviewing exemptions and deductions. I will study those results and look for ways to make our tax system fairer.

The super-majority in Idaho’s legislature has the power to help homeowners any time they choose. I supported numerous bills during 2020 that would have reduced property taxes, but the House of Representatives refused to give them a hearing. What we will continue to do is listen to Idahoans, seek common ground with the majority party, and bring creative solutions to the table. We won’t give up.

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