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Opinion >  Column

Eye on Boise: Idaho’s sales taxes rank low in national comparison

The Tax Foundation has released a new ranking of state and local sales taxes, and Idaho ranks at the lower end: 37th.

The foundation calculated Idaho’s combined state and local sales tax rates, on average, at 6.03 percent; Idaho’s 6 percent sales tax is statewide, and it has very few local sales taxes, mainly limited to small resort communities.

In comparison, the top rates were Louisiana, 9.99 percent; Tennessee, 9.45 percent; Arkansas, 9.3 percent; Alabama, 8.97 percent; and Washington, 8.92 percent – ranked fifth.

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia charge sales tax statewide; the five that don’t are Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon. However, the foundation’s survey notes that Alaska and Montana allow local sales taxes. California has the highest statewide sales tax rate at 7.5 percent, but Louisiana has the highest average local sales tax rate of 4.99 percent, which combined with its 5 percent state sales tax, boosted it to highest in the nation.

“Sales taxes are just one part of an overall tax structure and should be considered in context,” the report states. “For example, Washington state has high sales taxes but no income tax, whereas Oregon has no sales tax but high income taxes.”

The Idaho State Tax Commission tracks total tax burden in Idaho and how it, and each sector within it, compares to other states and the nation. The latest report, published in 2015 with 2013 figures, shows that Idaho’s overall tax burden per person ranks 49th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia, and ranks lowest of 11 Western states. Both rankings have not changed since 2010.

To account for Idaho’s relatively low incomes, the report also tracks Idaho tax burden relative to income; by that measure, Idaho’s tax burden ranks 41st nationally, and again 11th among 11 Western states.

Fireworks law change drawing support

Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan said he’s drawing support for his push to close a loophole in Idaho’s fireworks laws that allows illegal aerial fireworks – those that shoot into the air and explode – to be sold in Idaho, as long as the purchaser signs an affidavit promising to take them out of state to use them.

“It’s time we fix this loophole in the fireworks law to better protect Idaho citizens, their property and our firefighters who risk their lives battling these fires,” Doan said. Illegal fireworks sparked a destructive 2,500-acre fire in the Boise foothills last week that destroyed one home and threatened hundreds of others.

Doan said he’s already drawn support for his proposal to ask state lawmakers to make it illegal to purchase or possess illegal fireworks in Idaho from the Ada County sheriff, Boise police chief, Southwest Idaho Fire Chiefs Association, Meridian police and fire chiefs and the Caldwell fire chief.

Idaho’s fireworks laws, which date to 1997, regulate the sale of “nonaerial common fireworks,” and allow local jurisdictions to make their own rules. Fireworks that fly up into the air and explode or send sparks or other burning material long distances are illegal without a special permit, typically issued for public fireworks displays.

The loophole that concerns Doan, in Idaho Code 39-2610, says, “The provisions of this chapter do not apply to and shall not prohibit … The importation, storage and sale of fireworks for export from this state, or interstate commerce in fireworks.” That’s the clause that Idaho sellers of illegal fireworks rely on to sell sky rockets and the like, while requiring buyers to sign something saying they won’t use them inside the state. Doan calls that “absolutely ludicrous.”

Ag leaders welcome Lt. Gov. Little’s run for state governor

Idaho agriculture leaders are welcoming Lt. Gov. Brad Little’s recent announcement that he’s running for governor in 2018. “Brad Little is Idaho agriculture,” Food Producers of Idaho Executive Director Rick Waitley told the Capital Press. “Being a product of a strong Idaho farm and ranch family, the lieutenant governor understands the important value the industry adds to the state.”

Little, 62, an Emmett native, is a third-generation rancher from a prominent Idaho ranching family. He served four terms in the state Senate, rising to majority caucus chairman, and was appointed lieutenant governor in 2009. He was re-elected in statewide votes in 2010 and 2014; in the last election, he received close to two-thirds of the vote in both the GOP primary and general elections, despite spirited challenges from Jim Chmelik in the primary and Bert Marley in the general; he piled up similar or larger margins of victory in 2010.

Gov. Butch Otter has said he won’t run again after he completes his third term. Little is the first candidate to announce for what’s expected to be a contested race. Other rumored candidates include 1st District GOP congressman Raul Labrador and former state Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, who challenged Otter in the 2014 GOP primary, but neither of them has announced plans.

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