When you get your property tax bill next December, don’t blame your county assessor.
Spare the mayor your wrath.
And avoid getting miffed at your school board member.
Look to your lawmakers in Boise.
They’re about to return home empty-handed.
Among the bare essentials legislators had to accomplish in the past three months was doing something to restore the value of the homeowner’s exemption. That’s the voter-passed initiative that is supposed to shield half of a modest owner-occupied residence’s value from property taxes.
Before 2016, it was tied to a housing market index. The top limit fell when housing prices collapsed during the Great Recession. But that year, at the behest of the Idaho Realtors Association, lawmakers eliminated the index and capped the exemption at $100,000.
In other words, any house worth more than $200,000 pays a greater share of property taxes. For instance, the owner of a home valued at $194,000 would pay taxes on half that value. If that same house is assessed at $250,000, the homeowner will pay tax on 60 percent of its value.
Few foresaw the rapid escalation of Idaho housing values that occurred in the past three years.
Nor could anyone have anticipated the GOP congress-ional tax legislation that limited the ability of homeowners to deduct state and local taxes.
But in that time, almost a quarter of the homeowner’s tax break has melted away. Had it been left alone, the indexed homeowner’s exemption would sit at $121,950 — fully covering homes worth $243,900 or less . That would have addressed inflating home values in Ada County, where the median residential value — meaning half are worth more and half are worth less — is $229,267. Latah County is not too far behind with a median value of $214,768. In Nez Perce County, the median is $184,977.
Instead, 219,000 Idaho homeowners — or 48 percent — have fallen behind. Inflation has elevated their assessments to $200,000 and above.
An overview from the State Tax Commission shows:
l Ada County — 73.5 percent, or 111,459, are assessed at $200,000 or more.
l Latah County — 57.5 percent of homes, or 4,346, have capped out.
l Nez Perce County — 40.3 percent, or 4,145.
l Kootenai County — 69.8 percent, or 26,715.
l Canyon County — 38.9 percent, or 19,818.
The problem is less severe in Bonneville County (16.6 percent), Bannock County (16.6 percent), Clearwater County (18.4 percent), Idaho County (24.6 percent) and Twin Falls County (37.5 percent).
Still, if the trend continues, more than half of Idaho’s homeowners will see their property tax break further eroded by this time next year.
No wonder Idaho Politics Weekly columnist Steve Taggart last week characterized remedying this problem as “the most far-reaching” issue before the Legislature.
So there was every reason for optimism as a bipartisan team — Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, and Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa — sponsored a legislative fix. Their bill would merely correct the error lawmakers made three years ago, restore the full value of the homeowner’s exemption and revive the inflation index.
All of which came to a crashing halt last week when House Revenue and Taxation Committee Chairman Gary Collins, R-Nampa, refused to give Jordan and Vander Woude a hearing.
Collins says the issue needs more time than he can give it this late in the session. In other words, Idaho homeowners, just suck it up and pay more in taxes while Collins takes his time.
That’s absurd. The homeowner’s exemption has been around since Ronald Reagan was in the White House. There is no steep learning curve involved here. This is not re-writing the tax laws. It is merely an adjustment.
Apparently tax relief is not a priority with this Legislature.
But math and logic are taking a back seat to special interest politics. The fact is that if a deteriorating exemption increases the share of property taxes Idaho homeowners pay, then it means a smaller bill for owners of other types of property — such as farm land, rentals, second homes, retailers and businesses.
Every one of those interests has a lobbyist in Boise.
Who does not have a voice at the table?
No wonder they are getting squeezed once more. — M.T.