Even though no state legislative seat is on the ballot, the Legislature weighs heavily on Tuesday’s election.
Voters in the Treasure Valley have several big decisions to make on Tuesday: a $187 million bond for a new jail in Canyon County; a $1.1 million per year increase for the Kuna Fire District; a 10-year, $450,000 per year levy to add 10,000 square feet to the Kuna Library; a 10-year, $1.4 million per year levy for the Meridian Library District.
First of all, let us make clear that the most important thing to do on Tuesday is to just vote. Period. Whatever your decision, we urge you to vote. Of course, we know that for most of you who are reading the newspaper, you’re already planning to vote, so we recognize that we’re preaching to the choir here. Still, it’s worth repeating: Vote on Tuesday.
It’s difficult to argue against the need for any of the measures on the ballot Tuesday. Even though this editorial board did not endorse the Canyon County jail bond, we could not argue that there is no need for a new jail. To the contrary, we feel strongly Canyon County needs a new jail. Our biggest objection is the cost and the size.
We similarly find it hard to argue against the need for the Kuna Rural Fire District, which has done an admirable job of making do with its resources while the city of Kuna and the surrounding coverage area have grown.
The Kuna Library District has more than proven to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars, last year paying off the bond that built the original 12,500-square-foot library that was built back when Kuna’s population was closer to 5,000 people. Today, Kuna is about four times that size. The district is asking to add 10,000 square feet in an effort to better serve its customers.
The Meridian Library District has a list of needs for its levy, including new branches for rapidly growing areas of the state’s second-largest city, which now expects to have a population of 164,000 people by 2040.
It’s hard to argue against any of these measures. And yet, one costs $94 per $100,000, another costs $25 per year, another costs “just” $12 per year, one costs $60 per year. And these are on top of the regular levies taxpayers pay and the supplemental levies for school districts and bonds for new schools.
Which brings us back to the Legislature, which did absolutely nothing this session to address a local-option sales tax or allowing impact fees for school districts.
We’re not saying we’re at a crisis point yet when it comes to property taxes, but it is a personal crisis for some people. For those who have lived in their house for several years, perhaps decades, and they see their property value increase from $110,000 to $200,000 to $250,000, their property taxes are going up right along with that assessed value, even if their income is not going up. Add in the cost of bonds for new schools, a supplemental levy for their local school district, a new jail, an addition to the library, and the property tax bill can start to become unaffordable.
The state Legislature — and only the state Legislature — has at their disposal the ability to alleviate some of that burden from the property taxpayer.
But while they dickered over Medicaid sideboards and limiting voter initiatives, they didn’t address — didn’t even debate — some of the basic tools that could be used to ease some of these burdens, such as a local-option sales tax and impact fees for school districts or a statewide fund for school buildings. Yes, the Legislature increased K-12 education funding, but most of our local school districts still live on a steady diet of supplemental levies, paid for by property taxes.
We’re not certain of the fate of some of these measures on Tuesday, but we suspect the burdens placed on property taxes will weigh heavily on voters’ minds at the ballot box.
Legislators, such as John Vander Woude, Lori Den Hartog, Rick Youngblood, Gary Collins and others, would do well to watch the results Tuesday and think about their role in how we pay for things in Idaho.
We can’t continually fall back on property taxes to pay for everything.