JEERS ... to Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, and State Treasurer Julie Ellsworth.
Idaho can’t afford the sales tax relief lower-income families have been promised for 13 years.
But these three have all the money in the world to spend on a game of political one-upmanship.
Bedke and Hill want Ellsworth to vacate her chambers in the state Capitol so that the 49 House members who now do business in a cubicle can have real offices — just like the grownups in the Senate.
When Ellsworth pushed back, Bedke and Hill went to court.
Guess who pays for both sets of lawyers?
So far, Ellsworth’s office has paid former Idaho Attorney General David Leroy $25,079 to defend her interests.
Meanwhile, Holland and Hart, the law refirm representing Bedke and Hill, has collected $39,880.
And this is just beginning.
Ellsworth has filed a preliminary motion to dismiss the Bedke-Hill lawsuit.
Next comes more motions, responses, replies, more motions, oral arguments, possibly a trial and maybe an appeal or two.
So expect the bills to mount.
Rather than skilled politicians who know how to negotiate, Idaho’s leadership acts like entrenched congressional power brokers. Unable or unwilling to give an inch, they turn the whole thing over to a bunch of beltway lawyers.
Said Ellsworth: “This is stupid.”
Talk about an understatement.
CHEERS ... to Sens. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, and Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, and state Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise.
Alone among Idaho’s 105 legislators, these three had the good sense to question handing over millions more in tax goodies to multinational corporations doing business in Idaho. Ultimately, Brackett, Berch and Johnson’s designated substitute, Nezperce farmer Ray Mosman, voted against it.
Here’s what they recognized: The sponsors’ fiscal impact statement was a masterpiece in deflection. Usually a tax bill tells you how much it will cost the treasury. This one acted as if it would generate more money — by deceptively counting funds already being collected under a tax bill passed a year earlier.
So instead of supposedly producing an estimated $7.7 million gain for the state in the fiscal year that just ended, the measure actually projected a $45 million loss.
And all of this was coming at a time when lawmakers were grappling with the prospect that the income tax cut they passed in 2018 was not performing as expected. Tax collections were falling tens of millions of dollars short.
But what the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry wants, it gets.
So now the state budget is on red alert. In just six months, its revenue projection has been drastically scaled back.
And rather than rising this year, corporate income tax collections will actually decline by about $20 million.
Gee, who knew?
Johnson, Brackett and Berch, that’s who.
JEERS ... to Senate Democratic Leader Michelle Stennett of Ketchum, House Democratic Leader Mat Erpelding of Boise and 18 of their 19 Democratic colleagues.
You expect anti-government fanatics in the House and Senate Republican caucuses to get in line when corporate Idaho wants its share of the state fiscal pie.
But why would every Democratic lawmaker except Rep. Berch of Boise fall in line and support the multinational corporate tax break discussed above?
These are the people who are supposed to hold the Republicans’ feet to the fire — especially when they’re about to further undermine support for public schools, health care and higher education.
It’s Democrats who prefer tax relief for the moderate-income Idahoans — not tax breaks for the Microns and the Simplots of this world.
When the Legislature convenes next January, each of those causes will get one response from Republicans: “Wait.”
And what can Democrats say then?
JEERS ... to House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star.
Holy Howard Jarvis, Batman. Moyle wants to bring back Proposition 13.
Thanks to Moyle and his colleagues, owners of average homes are paying a greater share of the load — while owners of commercial, vacation, business and rental properties are getting a break.
That’s because three years ago, lawmakers stopped indexing the Homestead Exemption — which shields half of a modest home’s value from taxation — for inflation. Since then, home values have skyrocketed, in many places by more than 10 percent a year
But that’s all right with Moyle.
“If we just increase the homeowner’s exemption, then what we have done is reshift the taxes, we did not save anybody a dime, we just shifted it from where we are collecting it,” he said.
Of course, the shift has already occurred — and it’s gone in the wrong direction. Last year, the State Tax Commission said homeowners were carrying 65.8 percent of the tax burden — the highest in 10 years — and the bet is the number will be even higher next year.
What Moyle wants is a version of California’s Prop. 13, the ballot initiative tax activists Jarvis and Paul Gann got passed in 1978. In Idaho, its implementation would require a constitutional amendment because the state’s founders wisely decided to treat everybody equally. You pay taxes on what your home is worth.
Under a Prop. 13 format, owners would pay taxes on their purchase price, not the market value.
Of course, that works great for the person who stays put. For a growing family that wants a larger home, someone who takes a job somewhere else across the state, or even moves into Idaho, it means paying more than his fair share.
Based on California’s experience, here’s what Moyle’s ploy would produce — disincentives to sell and people gaming the system by transferring homes to relatives while state taxpayers bail out financially crippled cities, counties and schools.
All of which works great for a guy like Moyle who shows no signs of leaving Star and doesn’t much like local government.
But wouldn’t it be simpler for his fellow lawmakers to fix their error and restore the Homestead Exemption? — M.T.