Dan Chadwick, executive director of the Idaho Association of Counties, says he's heard comments from state lawmakers in recent years that demonstrate "a clear lack of understanding of what county government does."
He said, "The Legislature sets the rules, and counties and other local governments have to follow those rules. ... What we do and how we do it are established by the Legislature."
The comments he's heard, he said, include these: "We're going to stick it to the counties and see how they like it," and, "The counties haven't suffered enough in this economic downturn." Said Chadwick, "Pardon me, but what the hell is that supposed to mean? We have a job to do as counties, the Legislature sets the rules. Are we supposed to suffer some consequence because we don't have the tools necessary to deliver the service? I don't get that at all. ... The mandates the Legislature imposes on counties without sufficient revenue to pay for the responsibility is problematic."
Chadwick said when it comes to county government in Idaho, "Artificial restrictions are placed on raising revenue, and they have absolutely no relationship to delivering those services. That's one of the biggest problems we have at the county level, money vs. services, no relationship. ... When we reach our budgetary caps, it doesn't matter. ... We're still obligated to deliver the service."
Chadwick took on the idea of eliminating Idaho's personal property tax without replacing the revenue for counties head-on. Doing so, he said, "undermines the ability of counties in providing their constitutional and statutory responsibilities," and he argued it would provide little benefit to most businesses and the state's economy. Idaho already has passed legislation to exempt the first $100,000 of business property from the personal property tax. "Why not exempt the first $250,000 of business property?" he asked. "Now we're really talking, and we're really dealing with some serious tax relief for businesses."
He said eliminating the tax would remove 10 percent of counties' tax base statewide, and 20 to 40 percent in rural counties. "If the Legislature is not willing to give us the funds or provide the ability to raise the funds, then I think it's time to start looking at whether the counties ought to deliver the service," he said. "We're not going to be able to meet our statutory and constitutional responsibilities. ... Our services are not discretionary at the county level," he said.