Idaho Gov. Phil Batt thrilled North Idahoans this week with the passionate conclusion to his unprecedented midsession speech to the Legislature, advocating flood relief: “This is not a North Idaho flood. This is an Idaho flood.”
Batt backed up his talk by promising to use his authority to appropriate up to $30 million in state matching money for federal aid.
Not all area legislators and officials, however, were excited about some funding details in Batt’s flood package - for good reason. Batt wants flood-ravaged communities to provide matching money of up to 10 percent, the maximum required by U.S. law. The state would provide 15 percent to 20 percent.
The governor, who at one point shuttled three times in five days to North Idaho flood sites, deserves praise for a quick, compassionate response to our region’s crisis. Now, we urge him to go the final step and use untapped state money, including $23.5 million in a “rainy day fund,” to pick up the full state/local match of 25 percent.
In his address Batt pleaded for bills that would allow taxing districts to increase budgets, funded by property taxes, beyond the state’s 3 percent limit. Also, he wanted taxes on damaged property cut or forgiven completely and a 4-cent increase in gas taxes to repair roads and bridges statewide.
All three proposals would hike taxes in depressed counties at the worst possible time. Shoshone and Benewah counties, for example, have been ravaged, by mine closures, a depressed timber industry, and now by water. Many residents have survived on welfare assistance or by scrounging for work.
Now, the property owners who survived the floods unharmed will be asked not only to pay higher taxes but also to pick up the taxes completely or partially forgiven on 600 damaged or destroyed homes. Also, they will pay interest on tax anticipation notes required to fund a local match.
Batt’s call for a 4-cent hike in gas taxes looks good on the surface, too. It will raise $6 million for infrastructure repair. But it shouldn’t be fast-tracked. Long after the waters recede, Idahoans will be stuck with the permanent increase.
Tax, tax, tax isn’t the way to address flood needs.
The state has a healthy rainy day fund, and North Idaho certainly has had its share of rainy days lately. And freezing days. And snowy days. If our floods truly are a statewide concern, Batt and the Legislature should drain every penny from this fund and tap others before they hit struggling communities with greater tax bills.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board