Idahoans are crying for help, and it’s imperative that all government officials — from lawmakers in the Statehouse to the mosquito abatement district administrator — look for solutions to ease property tax burdens.

Bryan D. Smith

Bryan D. Smith

According to state data, local governments took roughly $1.91 billion from Idahoans through property taxes in 2018, a 6.4 percent hike over 2017. If that rate of growth continues through 2028, local governments will take a staggering $3.55 billion from property owners in 2028, a $1.64 billion increase from 2018. That’s $1.64 billion Idahoans won’t have to save for college, pay for braces, travel to visit relatives or to fill retirement accounts. Instead, those funds would fill government coffers.

If elected officials can hold overall property tax growth to a still-healthy 3 percent, local governments will take $2.57 billion in 2028. That’s still a substantial amount, to be sure. But such restraint would allow Idahoans to keep more of their hard-earned cash for their own lives.

To protect property owners — and renters, by the way — from staggering property tax hikes, elected officials need to find solutions and restrain themselves. They must also say no to ideas that shift tax burdens from one group of taxpayers to other groups.

One proposal gaining steam that would help alleviate Idaho’s property tax pressure is the plan to use some of the sales tax revenue the state shares with cities and counties to provide property tax relief to property owners. That idea has merit because it would provide relief to all parties, not just a certain class of people.

Legislators should also continue to reform foregone taxes, which are taxes that are now uncollected by localities but could be collected at a moment’s notice in the future if officials decide they need to fund a special project. Lawmakers should further restrict this ambush form of taxation, which catches taxpayers by surprise. How big a surprise do Idahoans possibly face? Currently, local governments could reach into the past and increase property taxes a total of $104 million.

Lawmakers should not increase the homeowner’s exemption. That’s a seemingly easy fix and a much-repeated talking point by well-intentioned lawmakers. But such a move would shift the tax burden to rural property owners with lower property values, and businesses, which then either raise prices for consumers or cut wages and benefits to compensate.

Next, local taxing districts need to follow Gov. Brad Little’s lead and start the budget process with reductions to their budgets. Localities should challenge every expense and flush pet projects. Local officials need to stop spending on excess staff growth, art, museums and business handouts, expenses that are unnecessary even when taxpayers aren’t getting crushed by property taxes.

The time for action is now, and all hands must participate to ensure homeownership and rent remain affordable for Idahoans. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to call your elected officials and demand swift action on property tax relief. Your wallet and your neighbors will thank you later.

Smith serves as the second vice chairman of the state of Idaho Republican Party and the fourth vice chairman of the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee.