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Eye On Boise

GOP leaders misfire in attack on Allred

Two press releases went out today, one from legislative GOP leaders and the second from Gov. Butch Otter's re-election campaign, charging that Otter's Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, is wrongly taking credit for successful Idaho legislation to raise the state's homeowner's exemption from property taxes and index it to changes in the Idaho Housing Index, though it was Allred who proposed the housing index tie to the Legislature, and with his Common Interest citizen lobbying group, helped push it through. The releases also contained several errors, including  claiming that Otter signed the bill into law in 2006 (it was then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne).

In the Otter campaign press release, campaign manager Debbie Field said, "The governor's opponent is taking credit for passing a bill that he had nothing to do with." The legislative leaders' release said Allred was "involved on a very minimal basis." But Sen. Hal Bunderson, R-Meridian, who chaired the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee at the time, said, "Keith was an integral part of our effort to index the homeowners' exemption to the Idaho House Price Index. It was Keith who brought the index to our attention." The AP also found public records showing that Allred testified on the issue in both houses.

Allred said he's proud of the work he did on the issue. "I think the errors in today's press release were honest mistakes," Allred said in his response.  "In the five years that I led The Common Interest, they tried to get their facts right and we worked together well.  I look forward to working well with them again as governor." Click below to read a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

GOP leaders attack Allred's role in cutting taxes
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press Writer

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred in 2006 played a major part in boosting a tax break for Idaho homeowners that's reduced their annual payments, despite a Republican attack Thursday contending his role was minimal.

House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, and Senate President Pro Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, accused Allred of taking too much credit for efforts to reduce property taxes in 2006, a year when home prices were skyrocketing and many residents were up in arms.

Allred, who at the time led the nonpartisan group The Common Interest, is now running against Republican Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter.

"We think he (Allred) is basically claiming credit for something we did," Denney told The Associated Press. "The impetus for that all came from the interim committee."

But records from the 2006 Legislature, as well as interviews with other Republican lawmakers, show Allred was pivotal in linking a state homeowners tax exemption for owner-occupied homes to the Idaho Housing Price Index, instead of the federal Consumer Price Index.

Making that switch has saved Idaho homeowners millions, because the Housing Price Index has risen faster than the CPI, even taking into account the recent downturn in home values.

Allred declined to criticize Geddes and Denney following their attack, distributed to media outlets across the state.

"I think the errors in today's press release were honest mistakes," Allred said of the leaders' release, which also includes several misspellings — and the contention Otter signed the final 2006 bill.

In fact, the expanded tax exemption was signed into law by then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne; Otter became governor only in 2007.

The move by Denney and Geddes to take up arms for Otter is emblematic of the GOP's fierce desire to retain the state chief executive's seat that's been firmly in Republican hands since 1994.

Nonetheless, an analysis by The Associated Press shows that linking Idaho's homeowners exemption to the Housing Price Index, as Allred pushed for, has resulted in the exemption rising from $75,000 to $104,471 in 2009. It fell to $101,153 in 2010 and is due to drop again, to just over $92,000 for 2011, amid the moribund housing market, according to Idaho Tax Commission estimates.

Had the Consumer Price Index been used, however, the exemption would hover at $80,000.

In Denney's and Gedde's attack on Thursday, they contend Allred was "involved on a very minimal basis" in the tax exemption debate. Otter's campaign also weighed in.

"The governor's opponent is taking credit for passing a bill that he had nothing to do with," said campaign manager Debbie Field.

Denney and Geddes also said Allred never spoke up during public debate that year.

But public records from the 2006 Legislature obtained by the AP show he testified in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee as well as the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee.

Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, supports Otter's re-election but remembers it was Allred who suggested the Housing Price Index during a presentation to the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee.

"The rationale was, the Idaho Housing Index... was an index that would give a truer reflection of what house values were doing, either decreasing or increasing over time, than just the federal Consumer Price Index," Hill said.

The expanded exemption finally passed 28-7 in the Senate and 60-8 in the House — though not with Denney's and Geddes' support.

In fact, they opposed the final bill — in part due to the changes Allred helped get the Senate to adopt.

At the time, there was concern the Housing Price Index could be too volatile, said former state Rep. Dolores Crow, R-Nampa and at the time head of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee. She also opposed the changes.

"It goes up and it goes down," Crow told the AP Thursday. "Who wants to be involved in that?"

Allred still contends linking the exemption to the Housing Price Index best protect homeowners from shouldering too much of the tax burden as homes change in value.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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