Some Idaho legislators have declared war on local government. It’s not a war fought with arms and explosives. It’s more insidious, but just as destructive.
The declaration is found in Senate Bill 1108, which would strip money from local governments and over time could leave them empty hulks that can do nothing, solve nothing and build nothing, even when the demand for public services is growing.
Mayors and other local government leaders are pushing back. They say the bill would shrink local budgets that are being bludgeoned by growth pressures and force cities to reduce the number of police and firefighters to a point that would threaten public safety.
Instead of forcing growth to pay for growth, the bill simply slashes local revenues and budgets in the name of reducing property taxes, with no care for the consequences.
It does not increase the homeowner’s exemption on assessed property value, which tax experts say would solve the problem of rising taxes. The Legislature froze the exemption in 2016 at $100,000 or 50% of a property’s value, whichever is less, and stopped indexing it for inflation.
The bill does not address the reduction in taxes on commercial properties, which has shifted the tax load to residential properties. It does not remedy the inequity.
Instead of listening to mayors, council members and county commissioners, the bill would axe local budgets just at a time when new population growth is straining them.
House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, says that “bloated budgets” in counties and cities are the problem. His recommendation is that they should just stop spending.
Easy to say. To local elected officials, these are fighting words. It’s no wonder they are up in arms.
If the Legislature severely limits local revenues and expenditures with this bill, it would create Build-Your-Own-Road Governments. In other words, if homeowners need roads to travel to see friends, they would have to build their own.
In mountain communities like ours, it could mean that homeowners and businesses would have to plow deep snow from streets instead of relying on city and county crews.
The same would apply to other needs including water systems, sewer systems and the services of police and firefighters.
Legislators can’t get rid of the need for public services, lower budget costs or lower taxes by wishing them away or waving a couple of pages of misguided legislation at them.
Unless Idaho wants its cities and counties to become pot-holed dumps with inadequate water systems, overloaded sewer treatment plants, even poorer schools and unresponsive emergency services, legislators should send this bill to the round file.
The Legislature should declare a truce in the war on local government and enact a peace treaty that solves tax problems instead of making them worse.
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