Given the revenue surplus the state is experiencing, we knew a tax cut was on the way. It hit last week.
The Republicans offered a plan to cut the maximum income tax rate from 6.9% to 6.5% and the sales tax rate to 5.3%, among other things. The Democrats countered with their own tax plan involving earned income credits, child tax credits, homeowner exemptions, etc., the next day. A tax bill that would eliminate sales tax on groceries is being held in committee by the same chairman who proposed the Republican tax bill referenced above.
These tax bills will impact state revenues by hundreds of millions of dollars per year going forward indefinitely. On the one hand no one wants to pay more taxes than they have to. On the other hand, we don’t want to pay fewer taxes than we should. The discussion calls into question what is the proper role of government, are we adequately funding our legitimate needs, and how efficient are we with our spending? Other tax bills are being proposed affecting areas like property taxes but have not yet received an up or down vote in either body.
One of the most controversial bills, SB 1110 regarding voter initiatives, cleared the Senate Committee this week after two days of mostly negative testimony from dozens of people around the state. It would make it much more difficult for an issue to be put on a ballot via the voter initiative process. The justification seems to be that it will put more rural involvement in the process which begs the question, should every person’s vote count equally? Potentially, it seems the desires of many could be thwarted by the opposition of a few.
Another bill potentially impacting our county is SB 1108 which passed the Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee by a 6-3 margin. It was another bill that was opposed by most of the people who testified regarding it. It is an attempt to limit property tax and is about the third iteration of bills with that intent. The problem seems to be that the bill seeks consistency of percent increase permitted statewide when the reality is that every county is in a different situation regarding their needs and the growth they are seeing. Some people feel the best government is that government that is closest to the people and the issues. Their complaint with this bill is that it seems to be the branch of government furthest from the people and the relevant issues, would be telling the other level of government (local) how to do their job.
JFAC is now beginning to “set budgets.” That means they are now issuing bills that will set the funding amount an agency has to work with for the 2022 fiscal year which begins July 1. Through this process they will grant funding or grant spending authority for over $8 billion. They have also been allocating stimulus money received from the federal government to help deal with the pandemic. Two of our leading legislators have been diagnosed with COVID this week. Sen. Van Burtenshaw of Jefferson County was briefly hospitalized and is now home recovering. He served on JFAC for six years but is now the Senate’s Agricultural Committee chairman. Sen. Steve Bair from our county also tested positive for COVID this week and per legislative protocol is under self-quarantine for 10 days. Former Rep. Julie Van Orden is temporarily sitting in for Steve.
There are dozens of other bills under consideration either in committee or on the second or third reading calendars in the House or Senate. Most are narrower in focus but still relevant to some in our county. Examples are the harvest of sage hen eggs, electrician training requirements, “targeted” picketing, and a bill to allow agencies to hire their own attorney when desired rather than using the States Office of Attorney General as we have heretofore done. The legislature began doing that several years ago and recently approved moving $4 million from the General Fund into their legislatively controlled legal fund.
For those of you wanting to follow the session more closely, most committee meetings and the floor sessions are videoed and can be viewed on the legislative website. “Betsy’s Blog” is written by Betsy Russell who is one of the foremost journalists in Boise and has been covering the legislature for years. It’s a busy time in the legislature. We wish our legislators, among other things, a clear mind, a strong backbone and a generous sense of pragmatism. Do the right thing for the right reason!