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News >  ID Government

Eye on Boise: Sen. Jim Rice gets favorable legal opinion on changing property tax assessment system

UPDATED: Sat., Aug. 14, 2021

By Betsy Z. Russell Idaho Press

A new Idaho attorney general’s opinion requested by Sen. Jim Rice says Idaho could, without violating the state Constitution, change its tax assessment system to a replacement cost-based system, if lawmakers craft the change as an exemption.

“There is no foreseeable legal challenge of such a statute acted to exempt from property taxation any difference between the market value of a property and the value attained through a prescribed valuation methodology,” wrote Kolby Reddish, deputy attorney general. He cited the same section of the Idaho Constitution that requires property taxes to be uniform, because it also allows the Legislature broad discretion in allowing property tax exemptions.

“That may make it so we have an easier route to finding a solution than the route we were looking at,” said Rice, R-Caldwell, the Senate tax chairman. He had requested the opinion and, along with House Tax Vice Chair Rep. Jim Addis, R-Coeur d’Alene, made a trip to Carson City, Nevada, to meet with officials there to hear about how that state’s replacement cost-based property tax assessment system works.

Rice said he’s hopeful that a proposal could be crafted in the coming year to change Idaho’s property assessment system, to end the big disparities between residential and commercial property values that have led to recent huge shifts in the tax burden onto homeowners.

Rice acknowledged Idaho’s current system, in which property is taxed on its fair market value – meaning the price it would sell for on the open market – has led to tax shifts. “There are years when it is homeowners and renters that bear the brunt of it, and there are years when it’s commercial/industrial property that bears the brunt of it,” he said. “But the best solution will be one that actually stabilizes that for everyone.”

That’s why Rice continues to oppose bringing back the indexing of the homeowner’s exemption to property values. Idaho did that until lawmakers capped the exemption in 2016, just before home prices in Idaho soared. Indexing, Rice maintained, “doesn’t work consistently.”

He said he’s hoping an interim study committee that he and Addis are co-chairing can examine and vet a solution that changes the assessment system; that panel’s first meeting is set for Aug. 27.

Rice noted two county assessors, from Elmore and Gooding counties, and Seth Grigg, head of the Idaho Association of Counties, accompanied the two lawmakers to Carson City.

“The counties have been very helpful, and are working at solutions with us,” he said.

Poll: No to regulating employer vaccine rules

The Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry, an influential business lobbying group that represents the state’s largest businesses, commissioned a statewide poll of 400 likely Idaho voters, conducted July 27-29 by GS Strategies, on whether the Idaho Legislature should forbid private businesses, including hospitals, from requiring their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The response was overwhelming: 66% opposed such a move by the Legislature.

The poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9%, showed only small differences between Democrats and Republicans on the question. Sixty-six percent of Democratic respondents opposed such a move; while 63% of Republican respondents opposed it. Among independents, 72% were opposed.

Alex LaBeau, IACI president, said in a letter to legislative leaders announcing the poll results, “While some Idahoans may not support employers requiring employees to get a COVID vaccine, the last thing they want is for the Legislature to engage in this issue.

“Idaho’s economy is booming because we are the least regulated state in the nation. Idaho employers need to be able to keep producing to keep the economy moving, and they cannot do that with a repeat of last year’s lost productivity due to employees becoming sick with COVID-19.”

Mask rules reimposed at Ada courthouse

In accordance with standing orders from the Idaho Supreme Court, the 4th District Court in Ada County has reimposed face mask requirements for court-related areas of the Ada County Courthouse, on the first, second, fourth and fifth floors, as the county’s COVID-19 case rate has risen above benchmarks. Supreme Court rules currently require masking if the seven-day moving average incidence rate in the county is at or above 25 per 100,000 population. As of Aug. 6, Ada County’s rate was 32.5 per 100,000. The masking rule excludes the building’s third floor, where Ada County commissioners have their offices.

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