Senate tax writers late Monday endorsed Republican Gov. Phil Batt’s $40 million property tax reduction package despite increasing questions about whether it provides any real relief to those who actually need it.
Critics again pointed out that only 30 percent of the tax break would go to Idaho homeowners, while businesses and other interests would get tens of millions of dollars more. One estimate put relief at $4 million for out-of-staters who own vacation homes or property at Sun Valley, McCall and other resort areas.
“Some people aren’t going to get much out of this, particularly renters,” admitted tax-writing committee chairman Jerry Thorne, R-Nampa. “But the ones who are really hit hard are the big businesses and the farmers. How can we argue with giving them tax relief? They’re the ones who provide jobs.”
The 5-4 vote of the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee had been expected despite an attempt by a small group of GOP senators to force consideration of alternatives.
“This thing is moving fast,” Sen. Hal Bunderson of Boise said. “We owe it to our constituents to at least consider some of the alternatives.”
Republican Grant Ipsen of Boise, who sided with Bunderson in the move for an alternative to the Batt plan, was among the four committee members opposing the bill. He was joined by Republican Stan Hawkins of Ucon and Democrats Tim Tucker of Porthill and Clint Stennett of Ketchum.
Joining Thorne in favor of the bill were Republicans Atwell Parry of Nampa, Rex Furness of Rigby, Evan Frasure of Pocatello and Cecil Ingram of Boise.
Bunderson indicated earlier Monday that he would try one last time to slow down the bill on the Senate floor by seeking support to consider alternatives. That would take a majority of the 35 senators.
But Batt, nearing his first major victory in an otherwise rocky five weeks in office, said it is too late for seeking consensus on a proposal other than the House-passed bill he proposed.
“It’s moved down the line now where no alternatives are feasible at this point,” the state’s first GOP governor in 24 years said. “We promised property tax relief. This bill fulfills that.”
But Bunderson and Ipsen, as well as a handful of others, want the Senate at least to consider another option that would split the $40 million between city-county property tax relief and a cooperative effort between the state and school districts to underwrite existing and future school construction bonds.
The Batt proposal simply would use state money to replace one quarter of the basic school district property taxing authority and then reduce that authority so the property tax levy has to be lowered. It also would slap a 3 percent cap on annual budget increases of all property-tax-financed governments; that could be exceeded only by a majority vote.
That feature of the proposal dramatically limits future property tax hikes and assures that some will see their next tax bill go down.
Bunderson raises many of the same questions as others have in unsuccessfully criticizing the new governor’s plan. Batt’s proposal is a scaled-back version of one vetoed last spring by retired Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus as excessive.
Bunderson apologized for having supported the concept then.
Both he and Ipsen repeatedly told their colleagues that the average Idahoan with a $100,000 home on a $30,000 lot would get just $80 in relief while those with $500,000 homes on $100,000 lots would get $550 in relief. And multimillion-dollar businesses and corporations would get even more - $1,000 in relief for every $1 million in property value.
“We’re marching off to glory,” Bunderson told members of the Senate Education Committee earlier in the day. “But we’re not fixing the problem.”