Ilana Rubel 1-6-20

House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel

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BOISE — Idaho Democrats say they have proposed solutions to the rapidly rising property tax burden on homeowners, but none of their ideas are being considered by the Legislature’s Republican majority.

House Minority Leader Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, and other Democrats held a press conference Wednesday to present seven proposals to reduce the property tax burden on homeowners and relieve the pressure on cities and counties to fund nearly all of their essential services with property tax revenue.

Rubel said the state is dealing with a property tax crisis as residential values have shot through the roof in several areas, but the only solutions heard in committees this year so far have been aimed at blaming local governments for overspending.

“We need a cut to property taxes, we need it badly, but we don't need a cut to vital services,” she said. “The time for deflection and scapegoating of our hardworking local government officials is over. To solve this problem we need to address the true causes.”

Rubel outlined several proposals from the minority party not being considered, including reindexing the homeowner's exemption, increasing the circuit breaker property tax break for low-income residents, capping increases on real estate value assessments, and broadening revenue sources for local governments so they don’t have to rely so heavily on property taxes. 

Three senators  — two Republicans and a Democrat — plan to introduce a bill to boost the “circuit breaker” tax break from $1,320 to $2,000, but they'll need to find a House sponsor first; the bill needs to start in the House since it will have a fiscal impact of about $6.6 million over two years, the Post Register reported Monday.

Rubel pointed to five bills Democrats have drafted this session that have not yet been heard in committee. Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, has a proposal to give counties the option to either increase or index their homeowner's exemption above the current $100,000 cap instituted in 2016. Another bill from the Democrats would not allow property tax values to increase more than 10% per year, which is aimed at helping homeowners in Boise and other places where home values have risen as much as 40% per year recently.

Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, has another proposal that would put some of the tax revenue from the state’s separate internet sales tax fund into the revenue sharing formula to be sent to local governments. Rubel said the idea with the proposal is if cities and counties have more sales tax revenue from the growing share of online shopping over brick-and-mortar retailers, they will be under less pressure to raise property taxes.

“This would mean real relief for property taxes,” Rubel said. “These are the kinds of underlying solutions that are not window dressing, and posturing and scapegoating.”

Rubel expressed optimism about the proposal to increase the circuit breaker, a property tax relief program for low-income Idahoans who are 65 or older, disabled, blind, or widowed, among other qualified groups. The bill, backed by Majority Caucus Chairman Kelly Anthon, R-Burley, and Sens. Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls, and Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, would allow individuals making up to $32,000 a year to qualify, instead of the current $28,000 threshold, and the threshold also would go up for lower-income families. 

Another bill the Democrats were hoping to have heard in committee is from Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, that would evaluate the state’s multiple sales tax exemptions that have not been altered in years. Rubel said examining these exemptions could mean the state finds situations where it could collect additional sales tax revenues because the exemption no longer makes sense.

Rubel also pitched broader budgetary reform, like changes to criminal sentencing laws to try to stem the state’s ballooning prison population that has put pressure on the state budget. She also said Idaho putting in more funds for education statewide would lessen the need for bonds and supplemental levies around the state to pay for school system operations.

RESPONSE

In response to Wednesday’s press conference, House Majority Leader Mike Moyle said there is a difference of opinion between the parties about how to address this problem. He said the majority of the proposals from the Democrats would shift the tax burden from one group to another, instead of addressing systemic change.

“Her idea is the locals don’t have enough money … and so I think there is a different philosophy on how to handle this,” Moyle said. "They’re looking for more money and we’re looking for ways to cut budgets." 

So far the only bill introduced this session to directly address the issue of property taxes is Moyle’s bill to freeze local governments’ property tax collections for one year. He said the aim is to push local governments to negotiate and come up with a meaningful solution to property tax burdens.

Rubel refuted the assertion that local governments need to negotiate, but said the state should be working on solutions.

“There’s been a lot of talk of people coming to the table,” she said. “People do need to come to the table, but I think we disagree about the people who need to come to the table. We have proposed meaningful solutions, and those bills need to come out of drawers and into committees.”

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