This editorial was published by the Post Register of Idaho Falls.
The end of the 2021 Legislative session felt like the moment when a tornado finally passes. Thankfully, the danger is now gone. Now all that remains is to survey the damage.
Well, it’s maybe over. The Senate left town. The House is threatening to come back again through some obscure, never-tried legal mechanism. Who knows? Maybe we’ll just live in tornado shelters all year.
While the end is uncertain, the damage is not: Lawmakers banned subjects, started up a commission to investigate teachers for thought crimes, disinvested in education, hobbled pandemic response, likely set up a government shutdown later this year, effectively eliminated citizens’ right to the ballot initiative and tossed millions of free dollars to make child care more affordable in the trash can.
But lawmakers will return to their districts touting their last big bill, ostensibly to cut property taxes, as proof you didn’t make a mistake by sending them to Boise.
That final bill, a slapdash grab bag of seemingly random policies stitched into a single bill like Frankenstein’s monster, was assembled so hastily and was so poorly studied that no one is really sure what it will do.
But lawmakers are promising you they’ve cut your property taxes. Remember that promise, and hold them accountable for the results.
When you get your next property tax bill, compare it to your current one. It’s quite likely you’ll find it’s gone up.
Here’s why: The Legislature has constructed a system that ensures when home prices are rising quickly there’s an automatic transfer of the tax burden every year from businesses to homeowners. That — not large budget increases — is what has been driving up homeowners’ property tax bills.
Last year, the city of Boise froze its budget, and it used CARES Act funding to reduce its levy — the total amount of tax to be collected — by a whopping 16 percent. What happened? The median homeowner’s bill increased by 2.2 percent.
If a 16 percent budget cut can’t fix rising residential property taxes, then the budget is not the problem. The problem is one the Legislature caused, has refused to fix and owns.
When the Legislature froze the homeowners exemption, at a time when home prices were just starting to skyrocket, it instituted the tax shift from businesses to homeowners. The tax bill does raise the exemption a bit next year, but since it also exempted additional business property, it’s quite possible the tax burden will again shift toward homeowners.
That’s apart from the numerous other flaws in the bill, which imperil economic growth in Idaho for the long term. In an inexplicably bizarre policy decision, lawmakers mandated that when there’s new construction in a city, only part of its value will be added to the tax base. So cities face a decision between raising taxes just to maintain the current level of service in a growing city or asking police and firefighters to cover ever-expanding areas with the same number of people.
From now on, growth comes with a penalty.
Talk to any mayor or city councilor in Idaho. They aren’t just angry. They’re completely dumbfounded.
That’s likely because the Legislature, now fully driven by ideological fury and no longer able to study and consider the impacts of the policy it creates, has become ineffective at best — and more often a bull in a china shop.
So if your next property tax bill comes in higher than your last, don’t call your city. Don’t call the county. Don’t call the school district. Call your state senators and representatives, because it’s a decision they made.