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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Idaho looks at tax break for homeless shelters

Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, proposed this year's first new tax break - a temporary, two-year sales tax exemption for nonprofit homeless shelters. The House Revenue & Taxation Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved the bill and sent it to the full House. (Betsy Russell)
BOISE - Even as Democrats in both houses of the Idaho Legislature have pressed this year for re-examining and possibly repealing some of Idaho’s existing tax exemptions, the first new sales tax exemption to clear the House Revenue and Taxation Committee this morning came from a Democrat - Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise. Durst’s bill, HB 435, would grant a temporary, two-year sales tax exemption to non-profit homeless shelters in Idaho. Its estimated fiscal impact on 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 Rev & Tax Committee, “Fewer homeless families will be turned away each night.” Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, said at town hall meetings in his district, he’s hearing lots of complaints about existing tax exemptions. “Maybe what we should do is move this one into a subcommittee,” he said. “We could get overrun with exemptions that now have sunsets on them.” But Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, said, “We deal with sunsets all the time. … That’s not really the issue. If this is a legitimate need in your mind, you need to vote for it. Let’s go ahead and deal with this.” 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’s got a clear justification - the economy is causing a sharp increase in homeless people showing up at Idaho shelters. Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, moved to send the bill to a subcommittee, but his motion failed on a 3-14 vote, with just Clark and Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, joining Roberts. The bill then won a unanimous voice vote to send it to the full House with a recommendation that it “do pass.” Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, noted that a panel of lawmakers that came up with standards for tax exemptions two years ago recommended expirations on them, and this bill “seems to comport.” Durst said Senate Tax Chairman Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, has promised him a hearing on the measure if the bill passes the full House. Durst said, “I think there needs to be a real bright line between what the Democrats are talking about and what this is seeking to do.” Democrats, he said, want to re-examine tax breaks that are “going to private, for-profit interests that are benefiting from taxpayer dollars,” when they should be able to “take care of themselves.” He said, “Contrast that with this legislation which is seeking to take care of the homeless.” Durst contended the state will actually save money because people served by non-profit homeless shelters will be less likely to seek state benefits or land in jail. The bill now moves to the full House.