After a tumultuous 2020 and chaotic start to 2021, we’re hopeful that lasting, positive change will be made in our communities this year. On Monday, the Idaho Legislature will meet for its 2021 session.
Below is our list of top priorities for the session. We urge lawmakers to spend time on these issues, avoid distractions from divisive pet projects that suck up precious time, and work together to pass comprehensive solutions that have an immediate and direct positive impact on the people of Idaho.
1. Property tax reform
Providing citizens much-needed property tax relief should be one of the highest-priority items for legislators, and that relief shouldn’t come at the expense of city and county officials’ ability to save.
The city of Meridian has demonstrated the power of cities saving money. City officials were able to fund multiple projects through years of savings. The legislature shouldn’t take this ability away from local governments.
Removing the cap on the homeowner’s exemption would be the best way to put money back in people’s pockets without handicapping local governments as they respond to rapid population growth.
2. Impact fees for schools
It’s hard to find it in your pocketbook to vote for another bond when your property taxes are already shooting through the roof you paid off 10 years ago.
That’s why we cannot let schools continue to rely on bonds for new school construction. This isn’t fair to our children attending these schools, and it isn’t fair to homeowners, who bear the financial burden of bonds.
Impact fees, paid by developers on each new home built, could provide a consistent source of funding for school construction. This would help spread the cost out to developers and new residents and relieve some of the burden on existing homeowners.
Creating a robust and healthy education system is one of the legislature’s most important jobs and ripples into nearly every other aspect of society. Along with giving school districts the additional funding tool of impact fees, we urge lawmakers to prioritize teacher pay increases and investment in early literacy, which sets the foundation for a child’s education.
3. Criminal justice investment
Before Idaho funds a new prison, we’d like to see increased investment in programs that help people transition from prison or avoid prison time in the first place. Prioritize funding for initiatives such as the Idaho Department of Correction’s community reentry centers and public-private partnerships that help people recover from addiction. Behavioral health crisis centers that have opened in Idaho in recent years are seeing success; continue supporting those efforts. Expand programs that help people find success on probation so prison space can be reserved for cases that pose a threat to public safety. Treat drug addiction as the mental health issue that it is and eliminate mandatory minimums, which keep people in prison longer than necessary.
We’re grateful the long-awaited Interstate 84 expansion in Canyon County is underway, but there’s still so much work to be done to manage growth — notably the Highway 16 extension from Chinden Boulevard south to Interstate 84. The project would cost an estimated $450 million, according to Idaho Press reporting.
In a two-county area with only one main north/south artery in Eagle Road, a project like this will be vital in handling traffic congestion. Without consistent funding, officials have said this project will take about 20 years. We doubt citizens want to wait two more decades for a solution to the horrors of driving on Eagle Road.
Idaho has a nearly $242 million a year transportation funding gap, according to a Boise State study. That includes nearly 1,000 aging bridges that are in poor or fair condition. Lawmakers must address this gap and pass funding solutions this year.
5. Local option sales tax
Beyond expanding roads, Idaho needs to plan ahead for a more convenient and robust public transit system that can relieve congestion and give commuters another option. We’re one of two states that don’t have a dedicated fund for public transit. Still, lawmakers won’t give residents the option to pass a local option sales tax, which could bring in revenue for public transit or other projects.
We appreciate the legislature’s good intentions to keep our citizens unburdened by superfluous taxes, but sometimes those efforts are incredibly restrictive when it comes to growth.
In 2021, legislators should remove the barriers to a local options sales tax so city and county elected officials can make the best decisions for their communities.
Honorable mention: Medical marijuana
Most other states in our nation have recognized the benefits of medical marijuana. Idaho, a state that is all about liberty, should not deny this medical resource to residents, such as injured veterans and cancer patients, who live with chronic pain.