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We can’t say we’re surprised to find ourselves halfway through the legislative session with no property tax relief for Idahoans. The legislature seems busy consolidating and expanding its power over cities and citizens, when it could be using existing tools for property tax solutions.

It’s not too late for the Idaho Legislature to find a good temporary solution to lower property taxes, then begin a more substantial examination of the tax code next session. We can’t wish away growth — and the challenges it creates — by pretending it isn’t happening.

The only half-hearted effort to handle property taxes is a bill that would prevent cities from saving money or fully taxing new construction and annexations. We think punishing the local stewards of our taxes is ridiculous and antithetical to the legislature’s desire for fiscal conservatism. We’re also confused why the legislature is so opposed to the popular and best solution to giving Idahoans a break.

Removing the cap on the homeowner’s exemption would be the quickest and easiest way to put money back in people’s pockets without handcuffing local governments as they respond to rapid population growth.

That growth shouldn’t punish the people who have lived here for decades or even generations. Growth should be self-sustaining, and ways to ensure that happens is to continue allowing local governments to fully tax new construction and annexations, and to let school districts collect impact fees.

These fees for schools would be paid by developers on each new housing unit built. This strategy would provide tax relief for existing homeowners, as well as allow a consistent source of funding for school districts that need to expand.

If a district needs a new middle school because of a new 600-house subdivision, the developers and new residents driving that need should foot the bill, not the widow who paid off her house in 1995 and is living on a fixed income. We long for a day when there school bond elections are no longer necessary except on very rare occasions. Educators have better things to do with their time than to have to become election experts.

Impact fees for schools are definitely not a perfect fix. Those fees are passed to the consumer in the form of higher house prices — which definitely won’t help the affordable housing problem. However, this is where the legislature comes in.

Our legislature — elected officials who work for us, the people — should spend the next year observing other states' approaches to growth, and how their tax code serves their states’ interests. What have other states done that has worked, or not worked? How can other ideas and policies be tailored to fit our state?

We understand growth is largely a “city problem” right now, but make no mistake, it could eventually start to affect smaller communities.

It’s imperative we tackle this problem now, not in 10 years.

We urge the legislature to cut Idahoans a break this year, and spend the next year collecting information for reform of the tax code next year.

Editorials are based on the majority opinion of the Idaho Press editorial board, comprised of community members Rod Gramer, Rosie Delgadillo Reilly, Tracy Watt, Nicholas O’Bryant and Pat Klocke, and Idaho Press President and Publisher Matt Davison. Idaho Press managing editor Holly Beech and city editor Tess Fox are non-voting members. Views expressed in the editorial do not necessarily represent unanimous agreement among all board members.

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