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MERIDIAN — A Wednesday forum hosted by the Meridian Chamber of Commerce allowed Legislative District 22 candidates to flesh out their plans to incentivize business growth and manage the Treasure Valley’s ongoing population boom.

All three races in the district — which contains all of Kuna and chunks of Meridian and Nampa — feature Republican incumbents and Democratic challengers. Despite differences in party alignment, all six candidates agreed that population growth should continue, that Idaho should look to attract out-of-state businesses and that achieving both of those goals will require upgrades to the state’s transportation infrastructure. But they didn’t always agree on how to reach those objectives.

Democrats generally supported expanding mass transit systems, whereas Republicans prioritized upgrading roads and changing how they’re funded. Further, Republicans promised to continue lowering the corporate tax rate, while Democrats said the tax should stay where it is.

Mik Lose, D-Kuna, is challenging Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, for the second time after losing to her in the general election in 2018. He argued that Idaho is attractive enough to out-of-state businesses without continuing to gradually decrease the corporate rate, which the Idaho Legislature has done for years. He took aim at the legislature’s most recent tax cut, which reduced the top corporate rate by 0.475% to 6.925%.

“Had we not implemented that corporate tax reduction in 2018, we’d have more revenue that we could allocate to the building of Chinden (Boulevard) and all these other projects. Not only that, but also education,” he said. “We missed out on an opportunity to be more properly funded for the things that we’ve all been talking about that we need.”

Den Hartog disagreed, saying further cuts will allow Idaho to compete more effectively with states that have similar or higher corporate tax rates. Underfunding issues that do exist are problems with inefficiently allocating money, and revenue boosts can be found elsewhere, she said.

Nampa GOP Rep. John Vander Woude, who is Den Hartog’s father, agreed.

“You have to continue to attract corporations and businesses to Idaho to create the jobs,” he said. “Kuna is a prime example … there’s just not that many jobs in Kuna and everybody’s driving out of town” for work.

Vander Woude’s Seat A challenger and Kuna native Diane Jensen, D-Meridian, acknowledged that Idaho needs to draw businesses with fiscal policy, but said “we also have to make sure that our libraries, our schools, our parks … are encouraging people to come,” citing the need for stable tax revenue. Nina Turner, D-Kuna, joined Jensen and Lose in advocating for a stable corporate tax rate.

Rep. Jason Monks, R-Nampa, completed the party split as he debated his Seat B opponent, Turner. He said the state business tax provides relatively little revenue anyway, so a competitive advantage from the tax cut would outweigh a hit to the state’s income. Monks doubled down, taking a laissez-faire approach to growth more generally.

“The markets actually take care of that fairly well,” he said of issues like supply and demand of housing and jobs in the valley.

MASS TRANSIT

Partly lines continued to define candidates’ positions as they discussed solutions to valleywide traffic concerns.

Den Hartog sided with fellow Republicans, emphasizing upgrades to the state’s roads first, but she also touted her record on the subject in her six years as a state legislator.

“We have made strides toward adding general fund money to the transportation system,” she said.

Den Hartog also backed an idea she’s worked on with Monks in the past to invest part of Idaho’s rainy day fund, and then spend interest gained from that investment on transportation.

Reminding viewers that many transportation projects are managed by local highway districts and cities, Monks said more needs to be done to direct funds to agencies like the Ada County Highway District, which is tasked with much-anticipated upgrades to Linder Road.

Democrats did not contest Republicans’ goals of raising money to fund transportation in new ways, or of expanding roads, but they did advocate for up-front investments in public transit that they say will pay off and be necessary in the long run.

Jensen said she’d push the legislature to apply for environmentally focused federal grants and subsidies that support mass transit that uses electric vehicles.

A high-speed rail from Mountain Home to Canyon County could fit into the equation too, Turner added, though she admitted a project of that scale would be difficult without a broader national push for the rapid but initially expensive transit option. She also thought the legislature should focus on working to add bus routes that connect Kuna to Meridian and Boise.

Lose mirrored Republicans in discussing transportation funding needs, but departed from their ideas in arguing some tax exemptions in Idaho code should be stricken, freeing up more annual cash to upgrade roadways.

All candidates but one filled out a League of Women Voters survey providing more information on their platforms. Lose, whose name is already familiar to some who watched him play for the Boise State football team during the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, did not fill out the survey. Still, he provided insight into his views by advocating for industrial hemp production in Idaho, mentioning the need for enhanced arterial highways and placing a focus on education during the forum.

Blake Jones covers Kuna and Meridian for the Idaho Press. You can reach him at bjones@idahopress.com and follow him on Twitter @jonesblakej.

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