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Eye On Boise

Property tax solution: Big break for elderly millionaires?

When one of the more than 30 property tax relief bills that’s pending in the Legislature came up for a hearing today, Rep. Shirley McKague, R-Meridian, the sponsor, got some questions about her proposal from fellow House Revenue & Taxation Committee members.

The bill, HB 470, would give a $150,000 property tax exemption to any homeowner over age 70 – regardless of their income. “Their belief is that they have paid their fair share over the years,” McKague told the committee. “It’s not fair, and we need to do something. This is one choice.” McKague said the big property tax break would allow seniors to “free up some of their hard-earned dollars to help with medical needs.”

When Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, asked why McKague didn’t include any income qualifications if she wanted to target struggling middle-income seniors, she responded, “It’s the American way, the cornerstone of our American way to be able to own your own property at some point in your life, not based on what your income is.” Faced with additional questions about income and need, McKague told the committee, “Income does not come into the equation on this particular bill.”

Only three citizens testified on the bill, and all supported it. “I’m probably obviously over 70 and definitely in favor of this bill,” Robert Johnson of Boise told the panel. “I have 190 Idaho residents on my email list all 70 and over, and all are in favor of this bill.”

McKague is a five-term lawmaker from Meridian who introduced identical legislation both last year and the year before.

Roger Sherman, program manager for United Vision for Idaho, said after the hearing, “We’re concerned about anything that’s only age-focused. It benefits everybody over 70, but there are a lot of people over 70 who don’t need the break. J.R. Simplot is certainly one of those. There are many people in the state who have significant wealth and don’t need the break.”

Simplot, 96, is the potato-and-microchip magnate who’s the richest man in Idaho.

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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