Property taxes have been rising across the state. High property taxes create a real burden for many Idahoans, with those on fixed incomes and veterans among the hardest hit.
The Legislature talks about local control for cities and counties, but, in practice, sends unfunded mandates down to local governments, shifting the state’s burden for public services to them without adequate revenue options. This session the public is justifiably outraged at rising property taxes. When the Legislature removed the index, it created a tax shift from commercial property taxes to residential. This is exacerbated by a huge population influx and the rapid increase of property tax values. Important public services need to keep pace with the expanding pressure, but instead, the state is underfunding many of these services, which will undoubtedly increase your property taxes more.
- Education is the biggest recipient of property taxes because the Legislature has only increased its budget by 1.5 percent in the last 10 years with 1,500 more students added annually. Over 30 percent of our school districts’ budgets now come from supplemental levies.
- Our corrections system is busting at the seams. State inmates are being sent to county jails, which are overcrowded, and the state is underpaying counties for this service. This is unsustainable and a liability to our counties and sheriffs. Ada County has already had to raise property taxes to compensate.
- The Legislature plans to take $8.5 million from counties for Medicaid expansion. Most likely, the state will take it out of the revenue sharing it gives to counties. If assessed by population, some counties will be unevenly impacted by the loss and still be required to maintain indigent medical care.
- States and counties are required by law to provide adequate public defense, court processes, prosecution services and emergency management, which are all underfunded.
- Most of our transportation budget goes to state road/bridge maintenance and selective new construction for congestion mitigation. Precious little is provided for rural highway districts and county roads/bridges, which is a public safety issue. Some counties have tried but failed to levy property taxes for dire road needs.
Several proposals related to property taxes are being considered at the Legislature this session and I hope that we can have a robust conversation that acknowledges the role the Legislature has played in creating this situation and moves us to a solution that leaves counties, school districts and property tax payers all in a better position.
District 26 Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, is minority leader of the Idaho Senate.