We could not believe our eyes when we read a recent op-ed from Idaho House GOP leadership scapegoating local government for the property tax crisis created by GOP legislators themselves (“Right now, local government can cut your property taxes,” published Sept. 1). We must set the record straight. While it may be county officials mailing you the bill, don’t blame the messengers. The jaw-dropping number on that bill is not due to excessive spending by local government—it’s due to disastrous policy enacted by GOP legislators.
First, GOP legislators ended the annual adjustment to the homeowner’s exemption that used to keep pace with housing prices, causing a dramatic shift of the property tax load away from commercial property and onto homeowners. So, even if county budgets didn’t increase by a penny, the Idaho Legislature caused property tax on your home to increase every year. Meanwhile, many corporations have watched their property tax bill decrease while yours goes up. GOP legislators slightly increased the exemption this year, but not nearly enough to remedy the harm they inflicted on homeowners by ending the indexed exemption.
Second, they severely underfunded schools, with the lowest per-student education investment in the nation. This forced voters who want adequate schools to pass bonds and levies, further spiking property taxes. Want to fix the school roof before it collapses? Better pass a bond—the Legislature won’t help. Want full-day kindergarten? Or enough operating funds to stay open five days a week? Better pass a levy—the Legislature won’t help.
Third, for 14 years GOP legislators stopped every effort to increase property tax assistance for low-income seniors and veterans. This year they allowed a miniscule increase in the aid amount for some but financed it by kicking 4,000 people out of the program.
Fourth, they denied local government their share of internet sales tax. You buy a shirt at Target, 11% of the sales tax collected funds local government. But if you buy that same shirt on Amazon, GOP legislators have blocked local government from receiving any of the tax collected. As sales have shifted online, this has hit local governments’ revenue stream and forced them to rely more on property taxes.
Finally, the GOP bill shamefully touted as “property tax relief” limits taxes that can be collected based on new development, blocking growth from paying for growth. Thus, existing homeowners must either pay more in property taxes to make up for the deficiency (as happened in Meridian, which was forced to raise property taxes by this legislation) or suffer cuts to vital local government services like police, fire, and paramedics. Cities like Caldwell and Ketchum, already operating on tight budgets, were forced to halt new construction, exacerbating the state’s housing crisis.
For years, GOP legislators have blocked every bill providing meaningful relief, like capping assessment increases, restoring the indexed exemption, treating internet sales tax the same as regular sales tax, and increasing property tax assistance for low-income seniors and veterans. The result has been rising property taxes driving people from their homes.
A recent study from the Idaho Office of Performance Evaluations showed it isn’t “spendthrift counties” causing the problem. County populations went up 39% over the last 20 years, but their budgets only increased 27%. Counties are running extremely lean budgets that underspend compared to population growth.
Rather than admit to having caused the problem or try to fix it, GOP legislators are pointing fingers at innocent local government officials. You deserve the truth, and we hope you will respond by electing legislators who will work to reduce your property taxes while preserving vital local services. Idahoans need leaders that deliver real solutions, not scapegoats.
Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, is the Minority Leader in the Idaho House of Representatives. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise, is the Assistant Minority Leader, and Sally Toone, D-Gooding, is the Minority Caucus Chair.