Rep. Jim Clark got a bill introduced in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee on Tuesday, but several members said it wouldn’t work and fellow North Idaho Rep. Larry Watson voted against it.
Clark, R-Hayden, proposed a one-word change in state law in an attempt to tighten restrictions on how much local government budgets can increase from year to year. In 1995, at the urging of Gov. Phil Batt, the state capped increases at 3 percent.
But cities or counties that don’t take the full 3 percent increase can carry over the portion they don’t take, for use in a future year. Clark wants to limit that carry-over ability to just one year.
Clark said some people refer to the portion of the 3 percent that’s not taken right away “as if there’s a bank of money there. That’s what I want to cut off.”
Without some limit, a local government could save up increases for years, he said, then slap taxpayers with a large hike all at once.
But Rep. Tim Ridinger, R-Shoshone, said Clark’s bill would remove any incentive for cities or counties to impose less than the full 3 percent increase, because they’ll be in a use-it-or-lose-it position.
“The governor realized that,” Ridinger said. “It was an encouragement to local government not to take it every year…If this passes, that’s exactly what this would do. It turns it from a cap to a floor.”
Rep. Roger Chase, D-Pocatello, said, “I know what we would do in the city of Pocatello if this passes - we’ll take the maximum every year.”
The committee agreed to introduce the measure on a voice vote. Several members said they wanted to give it a full hearing, although they might not support it.
Rep. Larry Watson, D-Wallace, joined Ridinger in voting no.
“I could go for two or three years,” Watson said afterward. “I can’t buy one.”
“There’s no incentive not to levy the 3 percent, if you can’t go back and levy it,” Watson said. “It almost penalizes you for not taking the 3 percent.”
Clark said he believed local officials wouldn’t just levy the full amount every time because they know they’re accountable to voters.
Watson used that same argument to say officials won’t abuse the carry-over authority.
“They’re not going to take that money unless there’s a real need,” he said. “They’ve got to answer to the voters.”
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