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Property Tax Limits Revived, Rankin Says One Percent Initiative Appears To Have Enough Signatures

One Percent Initiative sponsor Ron Rankin announced Tuesday that it looks like he’s got enough signatures to get the property tax-limiting measure on the ballot.

Rankin, at a state Capitol news conference, said he wanted to keep the pressure on state lawmakers to trim property taxes.

But his news had something of the opposite effect with House Speaker Mike Simpson.

Simpson, R-Blackfoot, said if the measure makes the ballot, that may prevent lawmakers from acting.

“It may give a lot of legislators an excuse to say, ‘The people are going to make that decision, and we’re going to live with that decision.”’

Simpson said he favors looking at property tax relief - even such significant relief as removing state school funding from the property tax.

Gov. Phil Batt successfully pushed a measure last year that replaced one-fourth of the schools’ local property tax funding for operations with statewide general funds.

But, Simpson said, “What if we do that, and people still vote for the One Percent? Maybe we should wait and see what people say.”

Idaho’s budget is tight, in part because of the continuation of last year’s property tax relief bill. It’s considered unlikely that major property tax relief will come unless some other tax is increased.

Rankin, a Coeur d’Alene resident and former independent candidate for governor, is making his fourth try on the One Percent Initiative.

He got a version of the initiative passed in 1978, but it conflicted with Idaho’s tax system and was implemented by the Legislature as a 5 percent cap on local government budgets. That gradually was removed over the years.

Rankin got a One Percent Initiative on the ballot in 1992, but 60 percent of voters rejected it. In 1994, he failed to collect enough signatures to put another version on the ballot.

This time, Rankin ensured his signature-gathering success by hiring a professional signature-gathering outfit to collect names in eastern Idaho. Volunteers worked elsewhere around the state.

“This morning, I made the final payment,” he said Tuesday.

The firm, Nevada-based National Voter Outreach, has gathered 36,000 signatures, Rankin said. It guarantees that at least 70 percent are valid (or it has to collect more). Volunteers have pulled in 25,000 names, of which 17,500 were valid.

Rankin needs 41,345 valid signatures to place the measure on the November ballot. If his paid signatures are 70 percent valid, he’ll be about 1,000 names over.

The initiative would limit property taxes to 1 percent of assessed value after exemptions. State officials estimate that would mean as much as $280 million in state revenue that would have to be made up elsewhere.

“The fact is, if you take $280 million out of the system, we can’t provide essential services,” Simpson said. So sales or other taxes likely would have to be raised. Rankin contends that growth will make up the difference without tax increases.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer Staff writer Lindsay Woodcock contributed to this report.