PARMA — It was standing-room only as Idaho Gov. Brad Little and about a dozen agency leaders spent the day in Parma, a city of just over 2,100 in northwestern Canyon County, answering questions from residents related to hemp, taxes and agriculture.
Little held his first Capital for a Day event in 2020 at Parma’s Anderson Hall on Friday. Groups of students, from elementary to high school were in attendance throughout the day, and several dozen residents approached the governor with questions about hemp, property taxes, agriculture and education.
On Friday, Parma's newly elected Mayor Angie Lee introduced Little and told the audience, "This is your time. I want you to all voice your concerns and use this time to ask any questions.”
Little started off Capital for a Day with a brief address, after which, each department head introduced themselves.
Little answered a few questions from a group of Parma fourth-graders about rocks, fires and the history of the name of Idaho, before getting into a question about recreational marijuana and hemp.
When asked if Idaho would legalize recreational marijuana, Little replied, “Probably not for a long time.”
The question was quickly followed up with a question about legalizing hemp in Idaho.
“I have said I don’t have any problems with hemp. I was raised a farmer, farmers are all my friends. But I am opposed to hemp being camouflaged for recreational marijuana and we can work that out,” Little said. “We need to know what is coming through, we know how to control it. I was just talking to the mayor about where we can test it. If we do something with hemp we are going to have to figure out a way to test it.”
In November, Little issued an executive order allowing for the interstate transport of hemp across Idaho, as long as it meets certain requirements. Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, previously told the Idaho Press she plans to introduce legislation this year to remove hemp from the state’s list of Schedule 1 substances, which includes marijuana and heroin, thus decriminalizing it. Similar efforts failed last session.
Chris Yamamoto, Canyon County clerk, asked the next question about property tax bills in the Legislature. Yamamoto has previously been vocal about the rising property taxes in Canyon County.
"There are multiple bills (in the Legislature) regarding property taxes," Yamaoto told Little. "So I'd like to hear your comments."
Little said the high property taxes in Idaho are a combination of things — "people moving out of other states, and jacking up our real estate market."
One property tax bill was approved by the Idaho House Revenue and Taxation Committee this week. Taxing districts in Idaho are allowed to take up to 3% annual growth in property tax revenues, and if they choose to levy a lesser amount or none, the unused portion accumulates in a forgone tax balance that can then be tapped in future years. The new bill would require taxing districts to pass a resolution if they want to use their forgone annual reserve.
"When people complain about their property taxes, I say, 'Well, who did you elect for county commission, mayor, city council, fill in the blank?'" Little said, adding that "Out of 50 states, we are 15th or 18th for having low property taxes."
Little concluded the question by telling the audience to "stay tuned" for more property tax-related legislation.
U OF I RESEARCH CENTER
Little received several questions and comments about the University of Idaho's project to renovate the Parma Research and Extension Center. The university announced the project last year and said it would add new graduate student housing, greenhouses and four positions to the research center, as well as provide updated labs and equipment. The UI Extension budget, which was approved by the state Legislature, did not have a line item for the project.
Candi Fitch, executive director of Idaho commissions for apples, cherries, onions and hops, asked Little to "really consider funding the improvements that they are asking for, because it is really vital to the area to have what they are asking for."
The group told Little that many of the facilities at the Parma center are over 50 years old.
Former Parma Mayor Margie Watson, of the JC Watson Company, also asked Little to support the Parma Research and Extension Center. Watson said that the other UI research centers can study crops like onions and potatoes, but Parma is the only center that can study bugs, soil, water and disease.
"Research at the Parma center is paramount," Watson said.
She said that because of the old equipment and infrastructure, the university can't obtain new researchers to come work in Parma.
"We are important. We have got mud on our boots, dirt on our hands, but we are Idaho," Watson said. "We have to study our bugs, our water and study our soil, and I know you are going to go to bat for us."
Little told the UI Parma center proponents, "I don't disagree a bit," he said, but UI didn't ask for the funding in their budget. "I submitted a tight budget this year. I submitted it, and if I start to blow the budget up, then we are going to have to increase taxes or cut public schools."
Little addressed a number of other concerns, including improving Idaho students' go-on rates, infrastructure of the Highway 95 Parma bridge and HB 347, which would prohibit a taxing district from rerunning a bond measure within 11 months of voters rejecting it.
Capital for a Day brings state officials and department heads to Idahoans outside the reaches of Boise for the chance to address local issues and concerns. The program was started by former Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and continued by Little.