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Eye on Boise: Certain death doesn’t stop tax cut plan

Idaho’s House tax committee has endorsed a $126 million plan to cut corporate and individual income tax rates over the next six years, even though the Senate’s tax committee chairman says he won’t give the measure a hearing.

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said the bill would help the state attract businesses by reducing its corporate income tax rate by the end of the six-year phase-in to just below Montana’s rate.

Rep. Neil Anderson, R-Blackfoot, noted that income tax rates are just a piece of the total tax burden, and the state Tax Commission published a study in the fall comparing Idaho’s total tax burden. He asked how Idaho compares to other states on that, but Michael Chakarun, tax policy manager for the state Tax Commission, said the author of that report wasn’t present so he couldn’t address it.

That prompted Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, to move to table the bill because the Tax Commission couldn’t answer the question, but he got only four votes for that motion. The bill then passed and now moves to the full House.

That Tax Burden Study, posted on the commission’s website in October, is based on 2011 tax rates and shows that Idaho’s overall per-person tax burden ranks 49th nationally out of 51 and 11th regionally among 11 Western states, both rankings that were unchanged from the previous year.

Batt: Add the words

Former Idaho Gov. Phil Batt, author of the 1969 Idaho Human Rights Act, sent out a guest opinion to Idaho newspapers last week calling on lawmakers to “add the words” and extend anti-discrimination protections under the law to include gays. Batt reviewed the history of human rights issues in Idaho that he dealt with in his long public career, and told of his sorrow that a gay grandson has left the state for California, as has the young man’s sister.

“These young folks love Idaho and I wish they lived here so that I could see them more,” Batt wrote. “However, they will never make this their home again as long as we maintain our disdain for people who are different than most of us.”

“I would like to have somebody explain to me who is going to be harmed by adding the words to our civil rights statutes prohibiting discrimination in housing and job opportunities for homosexuals,” Batt wrote. “Or, I forgot, that might hurt the feelings of the gay bashers.”

Repealing exemption

The Idaho House has voted 65-2 in favor of House Bill 510, which would remove a special exemption dating back to 1939 that protects elected officials and legislators from having their wages garnished due to state court rulings.

“Elective officials should not enjoy any rights to avoid paying any debts or their taxes,” said Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, the bill’s sponsor.

The only votes against the bill came from Reps. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, and Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton. The elected official exemption kept tax-protesting former state Rep. Phil Hart’s legislative wages from being garnished for back state taxes, but the exemption didn’t apply to federal garnishments, and the IRS garnished Hart’s entire legislative paycheck. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Vets credit fails

The House has narrowly defeated House Bill 420, the bill from Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, to grant a new state income tax break to military retirees under age 65. Sims said the tax break, estimated to cost the state general fund $7.8 million next year, would draw more young, productive military retirees to move to the state. “I think this is a good welcome home for our military,” Sims told the House.

Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, co-chair of the Legislature’s joint budget committee, spoke against the bill. “I feel like I’m throwing a little cold water, and I’m sorry about that,” she said. “I want to remind you what we have chosen, the paths that we’re on this year.”

Lawmakers have made the education task force recommendations – estimated to cost hundreds of millions of dollars over the coming years – a top priority. “We all assume that’s the right thing to do, it’s what’s best for the schools,” Bell said. Plus, the state is looking to incur new costs to reform its public defender system, and for justice reinvestment reforms that are expected to result in big savings in the long term but be “costly up front.”

Bell noted all the bills pending in this year’s legislative session that would cost money from the state general fund. “Maybe there’ll come a time when we can all have a little tax break,” she said. “But at this point, that revenue stream with diversions is not going to get to the end of the road. Please consider that when you vote, and think of those things that many of us are working on and have committed to, and we should possibly just take care of those.”

The bill failed on a 35-31 vote.

Staff writer Betsy Z. Russell can be reached at or (208) 336-2854.