The siren song of the One Percent Initiative has been around for a while.
In 1992, by a 2-to-1 margin, Idaho voters rejected the temptation to slash property taxes at the expense of schools, colleges, local governments and the state economy. Two years ago, tax activists failed to gather enough signatures to place the measure on the ballot. Now, with a big assist from paid signature-gatherers, the initiative is back - back, but not better.
Four years ago, Idahoans resisted the temptation to solve a complicated tax problem with the initiative’s simplistic solutions. They should do so again now.
Simply put, the initiative calls for capping taxes at 1 percent of the assessed value of a property, after exemptions, and for state funding of school maintenance and operations.
Initiative author Ron Rankin assures us that state revenue growth would absorb a school tab of $150 million to $228 million (depending on whom you believe). But top Idahoans, including Gov. Phil Batt, predict the measure would devastate state and local governments, colleges and schools unless sales and income taxes are increased.
Said Batt: “I want to state, in the strongest terms possible, my belief that passage of the One Percent Initiative could derail solid, well-designed property tax relief and would subject the state budget to severe hardship.”
Idaho has one of the nation’s most balanced tax structures, with revenues divided fairly evenly among property, sales and income taxes. Thirty-six other states have higher property taxes.
The stable tax structure has sparked a decade-long business surge which has made Idaho’s economy the nation’s best, said former commerce director Jim Hawkins. But the initiative would stymie that growth.
Last year, the Batt administration partially fulfilled a campaign promise by lobbying successfully for $40 million in property tax relief and a 3 percent cap on local budgets funded by the property tax. In Kootenai County, Batt’s tax relief - along with close monitoring of local budgets by Concerned Businesses of North Idaho - has helped hold down taxes.
Now, Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Twiggs predicts the next Legislature will tackle the cause of higher property tax bills: climbing valuations.
Idaho needs true property tax relief, not the tax shift offered by the One Percent Initiative.
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