Posts tagged: Associated Taxpayers of Idaho
Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, told the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho today that he supports eliminating the personal property tax, because it's difficult for businesses, but doesn't want to cut basic funding for local government services that now rely on that tax. “No matter what we do, we're talking about a tax shift,” Burgoyne said, “unless we're prepared not to have jails, unless we're prepared not to have paramedics, unless we're prepared not to have firemen show up. … We're really talking about a tax shift, but tax shifts aren't always bad. If tax shifts have positive economic conseqences rather than negative economic consequences, they can help us move the ball down the field.”
Therefore, he said, “I've drafted legislation which would eliminate the personal property tax, but would grant cities and counties the authority to raise taxes.” Under his bill, he said, they could decide what type of taxes - sales, income, or whatever. “They might want to pass taxes on liquor, they might want to pass local taxes on meals, other things that help them pay their bills,” Burgoyne said.
That'd be a huge departure for Idaho, in which the state Legislature long has held tightly to almost all taxing power, leaving local government agencies almost entirely reliant on capped local property taxes.
When Gov. Butch Otter asked for questions at the end of his luncheon speech to the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho today, the first one came from former longtime state chief economist Mike Ferguson. “Do you believe that the state of Idaho is maintaining a general, uniform and thorough system of public education?” That's the standard required by the Idaho Constitution. “And if so,” Ferguson asked, “how do you square that with the dramatic increase in unequalized property taxes to fund public schools in Idaho?”
Otter first said, “I'm not prepared to answer that question, to be quite frank with you.” He noted the “rural nature of the state,” and how that's led to differing course offerings in remote school districts, vs. more urban ones. Otter also said he thought the Idaho Education Network was helping with that, by offering distance education to remote rural districts.
“I would say we're probably not, but we're doing the best job that we can, and we're going to continue to do the best job that we can,” the governor said.
Gov. Butch Otter noted today that a decision on whether to start a state-run health insurance exchange or not will have to be made shortly. “There's some decisions that are going to have to be made between now and the 14th of December that are going to have a lot of impact on that session,” he said of the upcoming legislative session. “There's going to be a lot of heavy lifting, because in many ways we're not the architects of these problems but … I believe … that we are up to the task.”
He complained about continued changes in federal rules regarding the exchange. “Every time we're at a point where we think we're going to make a decision on it, then we get another set of rules and regulations that changes the dynamic of what we thought we were dealing with.” He noted that some of his colleagues, other states' Republican governors, have decided to let the feds operate their exchanges because “they're still philosophically opposed to what is the law, and what is the law of the land. I want to remind you that we are a republic,” Otter said. “Like it or not, we tried to change the law, we've done everything we possibly could, and now with the best interests of … Idahoans we now have to make that decision and that decision will come down. It's not going to please everybody, I'm sure. Those of us that have to make the decision probably won't be pleased about it.”
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said today that he's asked the State Board of Education to head up a 33-member stakeholder group to look at parts of the failed school reform referenda that should perhaps be salvaged. “I believe we're going to have in this legislative session a revisit of Props 1, 2, and 3 or parts and pieces thereof,” Otter told the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho. “We lost. I'm not one that's going to go around and shoot the wounded. … The rejection was pretty obvious. But I do believe that we will see … parts and pieces of all those come back at us.”
Otter said he's asking the group to look at “exactly why they failed where we think they should have passed, and where we failed in our construction efforts” in putting together the laws. “We will be providing that kind of information as well to the Legislature and to the leadership group, so it will be an ongoing process,” Otter said, one that might not finish this year.
An empty chair stood next to Gov. Butch Otter as he spoke today to the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho. “I apologize for this chair up here,” Otter told the crowd. “The lieutenant governor asked me if I was going to pull a Clint Eastwood, and I said, 'I was there - I don't think so.” His comment drew a laugh.
Gov. Butch Otter, in his luncheon address to the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho today, challenged county commissioners to bring him a list of state-mandated services they provide that they'd like to do away with. “I'd be remiss if I didn't open the floor to the question of what are we going to do about personal property taxes,” including proposals to eliminate them. “I've made no mystery of the fact that I've been a supporter of that,” Otter said, “but I also understand how 44 counties … the question is always what are you going to do with that share of our budget which we get in our counties from personal property tax, and I said frankly I don't know.” He said, “I want to engage in those discussions.”
He said the budget will be challenging in the upcoming legislative session, and the latest tax revenue figures are forcing a downward revision in projections. “I will tell you we do not have a placeholder for $130 million in that budget,” to offset elimination of the personal property tax. “We will have those discusssions, and I hope that we can come up with a plan. … I understand the plight of the counties, when it represents in some counties upwards of 35 percent of their budget.”
Otter said two years ago, he asked for a list of “those things which you think you can do without in your county that we mandated, and I'll be your champion to get rid of those services, to stop those services and to relieve you from that financial burden, because I understand that. But I have yet to see the list.”
Alex LaBeau, president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, is pitching his plan to eliminate the personal property tax, speaking to the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho. He decried calls to focus on small businesses, like the current law, passed in 2008, that would eliminate the tax on the first $100,000 of business property, removing it entirely for most Idaho businesses; that will take effect when state tax revenues rise by 5 percent above the previous year, which hasn't yet happened. LaBeau said, “It forces a relatively small group of larger taxpayers to pay the brunt of the personal property tax in the state of Idaho.” Said LaBeau, “The top 4 percent of employers in the state employ half your population - half. … The small vs. large argument does not hold water in this state.”
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.
At the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho annual conference this morning, Curtis DuBay of the Heritage Foundation opened with a pitch for his organization's views on the fiscal cliff and national spending policies, saying spending is the problem and taxes shouldn't be raised. He was followed by Greg Casey, president and CEO of BIPAC, the Business Industry Political Action Committee, who told the crowd of several hundred lawmakers, local and state officials, lobbyists and more, “The chance of the Heritage tax plan passing is … Zero.” He added, “I love youthful enthusiasm.”
Said Casey, “This is a moving target. We are deeper in the muck than we were last year, with even less clarity.” He said, “We're most certainly going to have another credit rating downgrade if we don't come up with a realistic solution.”
Casey, a former U.S. Senate sergeant-arms and former chief of staff to then-U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, said, “We got where we are because politics brought us here, and we will either get out or we will go over depending on where politics takes us from here. And in politics there is always one outcome. … The losers execute the scapegoats … and the victors define the mandates, regardless of whether those mandates are based in fact. And victor-defined mandates drive the deliberations.”
President Obama was the victor in the election, Casey said. “He won. Elections have consequences.” To close the deficit, Casey said, “We have to have increased revenues and we have to have cut spending. … We keep focusing on the wrong thing,” in GOP resistance to increases in tax rates.
“This fixation that we have on the tax rate is precisely what the president wants and needs in order to achieve his objectives,” Casey said. “He wants to raise taxes on the rich.” That's a political issue, Casey said. “The more the GOP are tagged with defending the rich, the more ground they lose in trying to figure out how to reform taxes.” He said Idaho's congressional representatives signed Grover Norquist's no-tax-increases pledge before the Bush tax cuts and other cuts. He drew laughter when he asked if it would violate the pledge for members of Congress to vote for the tax rates in effect when they signed it.
“At the end of the day, the issue is revenues vs. expenditures,” Casey said. “It's not tax rates vs. expenditures - it's revenues.” He said, “If our path is unaltered, the fiscal cliff becomes an off-ramp right smack into the fiscal abyss.”
Randy Nelson, president of Associated Taxpayers of Idaho, will retire at the end of July after 22 years with the group. ATI is setting up a transition committee to head its search for a new president. The business-funded group does research on tax issues, offers informational testimony on tax-related legislation, and sponsors a well-attended annual conference that's become a traditional warmup for Idaho's legislative session each year. Before joining ATI, Nelson worked for 13 years as transportation and principal planner for what's now called the Community Planning Association, or COMPASS, in Ada County.
“Randy is largely responsible for making ATI what it is today,” said the group's board chairman, Gene Marchioro. “I wish him all the best in this new chapter of his life.” ATI is a non-profit, 501c4 organization first formed in 1946.
Idaho's headed for a different kind of legislative session in January, one marked less by painful budget cuts and more by political and philosophical battles, key lawmakers said Thursday; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, noted that it'll be an election year, with every seat in the Legislature up for election, the filing period for legislative candidates starting right in the midst of the session and Idaho's first closed Republican primary looming in May. “I think it's going to be very disrupting,” he said. “Everybody will be trying to get to the right of somebody else because of the closed Republican primary.
Idaho's legislative session starts Jan. 9.
House Speaker Lawerence Denney said, “We will get through the next session, we will balance our budget, we're required by our Constitution to do so. We hear rumors of surplus, but I can tell you, the good news is that we are growing. Our growth line is pretty flat; we're growing at about 3 percent. … That's going to take us probably several years to climb out of where we have been.”
Denney said the question of funding a health insurance exchange and whether to accept part or all of the federal funding for it that Idaho's just been awarded “is going to be a very serious discussion this year.” He said, “Boy, I have mixed feelings. … It's going to be one of those debates that just tears you up.”
Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill told the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho that the upcoming legislative session likely will include discussion of guns on campus, state nullification of federal laws, possible tax cuts, and more. He said he doesn't expect lawmakers to eliminate any sales tax exemptions, discuss collecting taxes on Internet sales, or consider increases in tobacco or beer and wine taxes. He added, however, “My predictions are about as good as Boise State's game against TCU - you just can't rely on 'em.”
Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said any “tweaks” that lawmakers enact to the “Students Come First” school reform plan in the coming legislative session will be minor, and won't affect the upcoming November 2012 referendum vote on the package. “We don't want to affect the referendum,” Hill said. “They had 40,000 signatures to put it on the ballot. We owe the people the right to vote on that. We're not going to sabotage that.”
Hill said he's conferring with the Idaho Attorney General's office to make sure any proposed legislation doesn't affect the referendum vote. He said the possible “tweaks” would come from state schools Supt. Tom Luna and Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, who sponsored the original package last year, “some small things they want to do to make it work better.”
Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill and House Speaker Lawerence Denney are supposed to be sharing their “game plan for the 2012 legislative session,” but Hill said, “Actually we have 105 game plans, folks.” That's the number of legislators between both houses. “Everyone running their own plays. And then we got a bunch of you folks out there calling in plays from the sideline,” he said to laughter. “And yet it works amazingly well, it works amazingly well.”
Hill said, “I think we've seen the bottom of additional cuts, and we'll start climbing out now as the economy improves, but it's going to be slow.”
He said, “We're going to make some tweaks to the education reforms that we did last year, and those tweaks come from suggestions from parents and teachers. I think they'll make the reforms even better, and they'll make them easier to implement.”
Roger Christensen, Bonneville County commissioner and board chairman of the Idaho CAT Fund, told the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho that much of what Idaho's counties do is required by state law - it's not voluntary. “You do have these tremendous pressures on the local taxpayers, that normally have been provided for with a broader tax base, now being shifted down,” Christensen said. County services, he said, are directly affected by changes in federal and state funding and regulations, from jails to roads to care for the medically indigent. “We're required if there are no other resources at the county level to pay for services, if they meet certain criteria,” Christensen said. “If that mandate is not removed from the local level, that's where they end up.”
He said, “All I know is that I'm standing in the water, it's kind of rising, and it's getting deeper.”
House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, is addressing the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho on “state legislative perspectives past and forward.” Roberts said as part of his remarks, he'll be commenting on “a very dysfunctional federal government that is hell-bent on destroying the greatest nation on earth.”
Roberts also decried the rising cost of Idaho's catastrophic care fund, which helps counties cover indigent residents' medical expenses, saying he objects to “the whole idea of government paying for a growing list of personal needs.” Said Roberts, a sixth-term lawmaker, “Are we going to continue to expand the role of government and raise taxes to pay for the growing list of personal needs and wants? … We must rethink how we think about government, starting with the local fire and cemetery districts and moving all the way up to the massive, out-of-control federal budget.”
He said, “We must create an economic habitat which supplies the factors necessary for the existence of our species. Once this habitat is created, businesses will flourish again, but as long as we compare ourselves to other states and other nations and say, 'we are about the same in this area' or 'a tax is a little lower in that area,' we will struggle to have the reforms that are needed. What I'm talking about is a complete paradigm shift that needs to permeate our entire system.”
Here's why Lt. Gov. Brad Little gave the luncheon speech at the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho conference in Boise today, an event that typcially features an address from the governor: Gov. Butch Otter is away in warmer climes, attending a Republican Governors Association conference in Florida. Otter left early Tuesday and will return late Friday; Little is acting governor when the governor is out of state.
Lt. Gov. Brad Little shared his favorite quote from Erskine Bowles: “We can take little comfort in America that we are the healthiest horse at the glue factory.” He said, “It's gonna be ugly, it's gonna be brutal, but I think the days of deficit denial are about to end.” Little said, “It will generate significant disruption in how federal funding and tax policy affects the state of Idaho” and its local governments. He said the state should be in better shape than many to withstand upcoming “enormous shocks emanating from the federal government. … Idaho, thanks to our limited-government, free-market philosophy can proudly boast, as the governor did in Roll Call last week, of a balanced budget,” Little said.
Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little started his luncheon talk to the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho today by recognizing state Tax Commission Tax Policy Manager Dan John, noting how many in the Legislature and elsewhere have relied on John for years to answer their tax questions. “Enjoy your retirement - you deserve it,” Little told John; the crowd responded with a standing ovation.
Greg Casey, the president and CEO of BI-PAC, the Business Industry Political Action Committee, offered this view of the “dysfunction” in Washington, D.C.: “Those of us who are involved in that process spend so much of our time worrying about winning elections, we spend too little time worrying about winning policy debates, which is the idea that elections are supposed to be about.” Addressing the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho, he said, “It is this focus, I believe, on who has the political control in the process … that has contributed mainly to the dysfunction in Washington, D.C. … This was on clear display last week.”
Casey, former president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry and former sergeant-at-arms and doorkeeper of the U.S. Senate, said, “This focus on the power … has all but destroyed the process itself.” He said decisions have been made “in conference rooms, not in hearing rooms,” and said, “We've gone from a nation of laws and procedures … to a government that is driven by ad hoc impulse. … We lurch from decision to decision without any commonality in the theme. … So we act like a representative republic at election time, but now we govern like a parliament, where those who are in charge of the party basically focus on doing that which they want to do, to circumvent whatever process or rules they need to circumvent in order to pursue their policy or their philosophy. That's sort of where Washington is at this point in time.”
Casey said “both parties have practiced this over the last couple of decades.” He said it's “equally bad, whether you do it for the philosophy of the left or for the philosophy of the right.”