Eye On Boise

Panel introduces bill to end tax checkoff to fund Idaho political parties

Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, proposes legislation to the House State Affairs Committee to end Idaho's optional tax-return checkoff of $1 for the political party of a taxpayer's choice. (Betsy Russell)
Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, proposes legislation to the House State Affairs Committee to end Idaho's optional tax-return checkoff of $1 for the political party of a taxpayer's choice. (Betsy Russell)

The House State Affairs Committee has voted 13-4 to introduce legislation proposed by Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, to eliminate the current $1 checkoff on tax returns through which Idahoans can donate to political parties. The money doesn't come out of people's refunds, so doing the voluntary checkoff doesn't cost individual taxpayers more. "It's a diversion from the general fund, unlike any other checkoff," Luker said. "Right now, I'm just trying to save some money."

Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, asked Luker whether he'd be OK with the checkoff if it did, like other voluntary checkoffs, come out of the taxpayer's refund. Luker said if someone wants to bring that kind of bill, they can, but that's not his proposal.

Taxpayers choose which party their dollar should go to; this year, 18,278 Idahoans sent their dollars to the Democratic Party, while just 13,378 chose the GOP. In fact, since the checkoff was started in 1976, Democrats have collected a total of $735,574 - edging out the Republicans, who've taken in $728,412, even though Republicans collected more until 2006.    "That has been trending toward the Democrats," said Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, a Republican. However, it's also been trending down over the years, and has never taken in as much money as parties originally thought it might. This year's total was just $34,320.

Twelve of the committee's Republicans and one Democrat, Rep. Mary Lou Shepherd, D-Prichard, voted to introduce the bill; four Democrats voted against the motion. Click below to read my full story from July about this checkoff and how Democrats have been gaining the edge in it, despite being the state's minority party.

    BOISE - In a state where Republicans hold all but one of the top elected offices and three-quarters of the seats in the Legislature, Idaho Democrats have consistently outperformed the GOP in one key area: Donations from the state's tax form checkoff.
    Idahoans are given the opportunity to donate $1 apiece to the party of their choice on their state income tax returns; it doesn't raise their tax or lower their refunds. This year, 18,278 Idahoans sent their dollars to the Democratic Party, while just 13,378 chose the GOP.
    In fact, since the checkoff was started in 1976, Democrats have collected a total of $735,574 - edging out the Republicans, who've taken in $728,412.
    "That has been trending toward the Democrats," said Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, a Republican.
    According to the most recent Boise State University Public Policy Survey, 40.2 percent of Idahoans say they're Republicans, compared to just 25.2 percent who say they're Democrats. Independents beat out Democrats, with 27.7 percent.
    State Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said, "I think if you look at campaign disclosures, you'll see that Democrats tend to get a lot of small contributions. I think it's reflected in the income tax checkoff, and Republicans tend to get contributions from businesses or corporate PACs."
    Ysursa had a different take: "I think there's some philosophical opposition to any sort of public funding of the parties more on the Republican side than, I believe, the Democrat side," he said. "It's an interesting trend to see."
    Overall, the amount contributed by Idahoans has been generally dropping since it hit a high of $154,600 for the two-year period ending in 1982. Until this year, the money was distributed to the parties only every two years; Jaquet, when she was minority leader in the House two years ago, co-sponsored legislation with House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, to move to an annual payout. That's why this year's total is just $34,320, compared to the 2008 two-year payout of $71,429.
    The parties need the money each year, Jaquet said, and there was no reason to let the state sit on it. "It's harder to raise money in an off-election year," she said.
    Republicans collected more than Democrats from the checkoff from 1996 to 2006, but since then, Democrats have had the edge.
    "I hope we are receiving more because there's a general feeling that there needed to be change, and there's some excitement about the Democrats," Jaquet said.
    Ysursa said, "I don't think we can assign a lot of significance to it, in my view. ... The proof's in the pudding at the ballot box."




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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