Idaho cities and counties may not get it, but Gov. Phil Batt does: Voters don’t want new taxes. Period.
Rising property valuations and taxes from Sandpoint to Idaho Falls have infuriated taxpayers. Nearly 1,000 - 10 times more than usual - appealed their new property valuations to the Kootenai County Board of Equalization. The Bonner County School District mustered only 30 percent support for a $3 million levy needed for a new elementary and school repair.
Batt isn’t stupid. He saw what happened to former President George Bush when he talked out of both sides of his mouth about taxes. As a candidate last year, Batt promised property tax relief, and he delivered on that promise - successfully pushing a tax package through the 1995 Legislature, consisting of $40 million in direct relief and a 3 percent cap on local budget increases.
Now, he’s not willing to fudge on that tax cap - though local governments are complaining that they can’t survive on their budgetary diets.
Some things never change.
In the late 1970s, Idahoans barely had approved the original One Percent Initiative, which limited taxes to 1 percent of a property’s value, before politicians began nibbling away at the voters’ intent. The next Legislature replaced the initiative with a 5 percent cap on property taxes. Then, the Legislature allowed exemptions - for indigency care, solid-waste disposal, noxious weeds and tort liability.
County officials were clamoring for more exemptions in 1991 when the Legislature dropped all pretense of fiscal restraint, replacing the budget cap with Truth in Taxation legislation. The bill removed most limits, triggering some local governments to raise budgets as high as 700 percent and two unsuccessful attempts to bring back the One Percent Initiative.
Even with the 3 percent cap, Idaho tax activists are circulating petitions for another One Percent Initiative. Thousands signed the petitions as they lined the Kootenai County Courthouse hallway in recent weeks waiting to protest new property values.
The mood of the American public hasn’t changed since last November when advocates of Big Government were voted out en masse. Any attempt to tinker with Idaho’s new cap will, and should, be met with resistance. Local governments must learn to live within their means - as the constituents they’re supposed to serve must do.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board