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Measure Would Give Tax Break To Ski Resorts

A bill that a state economist estimates could give a half-million dollar break to Idaho’s ski industry is headed to the House floor.

But it will be put up for amendment to limit its application to equipment purchased for ski lifts and trams, trail groomers and snowmaking machines.

Chief state economist Michael Ferguson estimated it would cost the state $500,000 per year in lost sales tax revenue, based on $10 million worth of improvements and purchases at ski resorts.

Lobbyist Russ Westerberg, representing an association of ski area operators, said resorts are in a highly competitive industry, and neighboring Utah grants tax concessions to its ski operations.

He argued it’s only fair to offer ski resorts the same “production exemption” from paying the 5-percent sales tax as farmers, loggers and miners are allowed.

Rep. Jim Christiansen, D-Aberdeen, warned the Legislature could “start an avalanche” by granting a special tax break to one segment of the recreation industry.

“There are many areas that will want the same thing,” he said.

Rep. Frank Bruneel, R-Lewiston, said he thought current tax laws on ski resorts were “overkill” because the resorts paid taxes on equipment purchases and later had to collect sales tax on tickets.

“We’re not trying to get away with anything here,” said Mike Shirley, manager of Bogus Basin near Boise.

Shirley said the amount ski resorts plan to invest on improvements varies widely, often depending on snow conditions. But he said Sun Valley alone has spent $65 million to $70 million in the last five years on snowmaking machines and other improvements.