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House panel approves tax break for shelters

Fri., Feb. 5, 2010

Two-year exemption would cover nonprofits’ purchases

BOISE – Even as Democrats in both houses of the Idaho Legislature are pressing to repeal some of Idaho’s existing tax breaks, a Democratic lawmaker on Wednesday successfully championed the first new sales tax exemption of the year, for nonprofit homeless shelters.

Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, said his bill, HB 435, is different – it’s a temporary, two-year sales tax exemption for purchases by nonprofit homeless shelters, which are seeing a big increase in use during the economic downturn.

“The issue here is whether we need to respond to an immediate need with our skyrocketing homeless situation,” Durst told the House Revenue and Taxation Committee – which unanimously supported the bill and sent it to the full House.

The estimated cost to the state is $15,000 a year. Will Rainford, vice president of the Interfaith Sanctuary homeless shelter in Boise, said his shelter would save about $600 on purchases of “toilet paper, paper towels, oatmeal and whatnot,” enough to cover another 120 bed-nights at the shelter for homeless Idahoans.

Christine Tiddens, a legislative intern for Catholic Charities of Idaho, told the committee, “Fewer homeless families will be turned away each night”

Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, said people who’ve spoken to him about concerns over tax exemptions would support this one because it’s short-term and it has a clear justification. Sayler said he’s hearing concerns about existing exemptions that continue regardless of justification.

The bill was sent on a unanimous voice vote to the full House with a “do pass” recommendation.

Durst said Senate Tax Chairman Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, has promised him a hearing on the measure if the bill passes the full House.

He said there is “a real bright line” between the Democrats’ desire to close tax exemptions and the homeless shelter sales-tax break. Democrats, he said, want to re-examine tax breaks that are “going to private, for-profit interests that are benefiting from taxpayer dollars”; in contrast, “this legislation … is seeking to take care of the homeless.”

Durst contended the state will save money because people served by nonprofit homeless shelters will be less likely to seek state benefits or land in jail.

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