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Inside Politics: Representative democracy demands transparency

Comprehensive undistorted disclosure and dispassionate objective fact-finding are essential to honorable public service and framing rational and ethical legislation. When the electorate is deprived of a thorough honest biography of an elected official, or declaration of his or her personal and financial entanglements, there is no real disclosure in the legislative process. When legislators fail to or intentionally avoid broad and energetic solicitation of input while developing legislation they are being either appallingly negligent or intentionally biased. Because all of these lapses among politicians have become too nearly the norm, voters have become not merely disillusioned but deeply cynical about politics in general, and by extension government and its various institutions.

Unfortunately various manifestations of lapsed disclosure and inadequate fact finding (or ignored fact finding) have been displayed on the top shelf of Idaho politics so far this legislative session. The Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee recently considered whether to move Senate bill SCR 108 to the full body for a vote. SCR 108 attempted to put Idaho on the list of states calling for a Constitutional Convention of the 50 states.

To their credit the committee held a public hearing on the matter, a practice that is being more and more frequently sidestepped when concerns that challenge the ideological slant of the two overwhelmingly Republican legislative bodies are at issue. During nearly three hours of testimony by 25 people, not one person spoke in favor of the legislation. The hearing was heavily attended and the audience was unguardedly vocal in their opposition to the bill, reportedly hissing and catcalling at one point. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum noted she had received thousands of emails and phone calls, mostly opposing the bill, which she ultimately voted against sending to the floor. Nonetheless on a 5-4 decision the full committee decided to load a bullet into the cylinder and play Russian roulette with the United States Constitution by sending the measure to the floor where it was, thankfully, defeated.

Meanwhile, Vito Barbieri, District 2 representative and internationally recognized gynecological theorist, pulled House Bill 233 from his legislative silk hat for 2017’s opening performance of his annual Statehouse feats of legerdemain. I don’t think the bill was actually named “the amazing disappearing political email law,” but it might as well have been. After a year when Republicans nationwide seared the campaign landscape, burning away every tree, bush and blade of grass in search of incriminating Clintonian emails, one has to admire his sheer hutzpah for such a gargantuan display of political and ethical insensitivity. However, Vito is a piker in comparison to President Trump’s amazing reversal of interest in pursuing investigations into emails or conflicts of interest. In his case these could include incriminating communications and encounters linking potentially crooked deals, breaches of national security or conceivable beholdenness to a foreign enemy for financial or intelligence favors.

But let’s don’t get overly distracted by el milagro de Mar-a-Lago. There’s still a lot of opacity to consider in Idaho. One of the most mystifying now-you-see-it-now-you-don’ts in this session was the tidal retreat of Republican legislators from an initial passage of HCR-20. Idaho outdoor enthusiasts (hunters, fishermen, hikers, hunters … did I mention hunters?) should pay particular attention to this flinch by Republicans. HCR-20 was a simple inexpensive proposal to produce on-line maps of publically-owned Idaho land, identifying their use-status and accessibility. This kind of cartographic resource is readily available in other states. The excuses given for the whiplash withdrawal of support and mind-bogglingly rapid revote by Republicans included cost considerations and language ambiguity. Outdoor and conservation advocates have begun to suspect a darker ulterior motive. That’s the likelihood that Republicans realized that the resource could also be used by citizens to precisely track hanky-panky affecting public land access and ownership issues. We will never know, but Democrat that I am, I worry more about that possibility than Sharia law in Idaho.

Also, I find it interesting that, as has become the pattern with our Republican legislature, their leadership prefers simply to not let bills submitted by Democrats see the light of day, rather than allowing them to have hearings to determine their merits. It’s not as if there isn’t time for consideration of some alternate thinking on issues of actual importance, given the nonsense bills that have taken up the first half of the legislative session.

Among the bills that have been summarily buried alive include ones addressing the minimum wage, protecting wage earners from non-compete agreement abuse, prohibiting employers from asking job applicants what their current salaries are, adequate educational funding, health care, protection of LGBTQ Idahoans from hate crimes, coupling driver licensing with voter registration, and expanding voting periods, to name a few. Instead it has become an annual game of playing against the clock, bringing up ideologically hidebound and tinkle-down economic bills in a mad rush during the closing days of the session. That limits debate, public input and opportunities for meaningful amendments.

Finally, see how lucky you get trying to directly ask a Republican legislator about any of these issues. Given that most Idaho legislators are home nearly every weekend you would think open town hall meetings with constituents would be commonplace across the state.

Not so much.

In Twin Falls you might have gotten to talk to a legislator before the legislative session ended if you had connections. But it’s beginning to look like “ordinary constituents” may have to wait until after the session ends before any real effort is made to talk to the general public in an openly announced public forum, if even then. I’m hoping I’m wrong, even if it’s done only to prove me wrong. I’d love to spend three or four hours at such a forum, and I promise I would just watch, listen and record.

Readers Comment: Are you taking advantage of tax breaks?

Wow, what a winter! Will we ever see spring? In the spring month of April there are many deadlines within the Assessor’s Office for Cassia County taxpayers to sign up and receive tax reduction benefits on their homes which they occupy. There are two programs which property owners are entitled, if they meet the qualifications. First is the Idaho Property Tax Reduction Program (Circuit Breaker) which is available to low-income seniors and others who meet the following qualifications:

Age 65 or older

Legal citizens and permanent residents of the county


Widow(er) of any age

Former prisoner of war or hostage


Fatherless or motherless child under 18 years old

Total 2016 income which does not exceed $29,640

This program has a positive impact for many residents of our county. This program has the capability of reducing ones taxes on a lot or acre of land and their

primary residence by as much as $1,320. This program must be applied for on an annual basis to continue to qualify, and this year the deadline to have your application signed is April 17.

The second program which all homeowners in Cassia County are able to apply for is the Homestead Exemption (Homeowners Exemption). The amount of exemption for 2017 is $100,000 or up to 50 percent of the parcel value whichever is less. This exemption is a value which the Idaho Legislature has set, and will not fluctuate unless the Legislature makes adjustments going forward. To qualify for this exemption the home must be owner occupied, be your primary residence, not receiving this exemption in another state, county or on another parcel. The homeowner must fill out the application to receive this exemption. The property owner need only apply once unless they no longer reside where they initially qualified for the exemption. If someone has moved, purchased an existing home or has built a new home, they must re-apply to receive this exemption which in effect reduces the taxable value of one’s property. We encourage all who qualify to make sure that they are signed up for this program. The deadline to sign up for 2017 is April 17. After that date according to state statute 63-602 the exemption will not be in effect until the following year.

If you have questions or concerns on either ofthese two programs, I would encourage you to call the Assessor’s Office at 208- 878-3540 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Our office would be available to address your questions and concerns regarding these programs.

As for the direction of the assessed values and market conditions ofthe county, we are seeing ag values holding steady as commodity prices are continuing to experience downward pressure. The housing market is strong currently, and has shown increased values on both residential/building lots and existing homes. Where our state certified appraisers have seen these indicators over the entire county, this will have an impact on assessed property values for 2017, and what you may be asked to’ pay in taxes for 2017. Our neighboring counties have been seeing these same indicators in their respective counties as well. Our area is growing, and causing pressure on the residential properties in our county. We are required by Idaho state statutes to assess all properties within Cassia County at market values, using the mass appraisal method. We do not base our values on individual appraisals, but look at homes and properties with similar characteristics and qualities in all areas of the county. Assessment notices will go out by the first Monday in June, and every property owner has the right to appeal their assessed value. The taxpayer, by Idaho code, has the right to do this by the fourth Monday in June, or June 26. I encourage all to review their assessment notice, and contact our office with any questions you may have.

The appraisal process is a yearlong process where state certified appraisers make every effort to appraise property accurately and fairly in accordance with Idaho state law. Adjustments in values are made based on market conditions within our county for similar types of property.

It has been an honor to serve as your assessor these past six-plus years. I am fortunate to have a great staff and they are committed to serve all the taxpayers of Cassia County in a fair and equitable manner. I am reminded of a quote by Abraham Lincoln “I never had a policy, I just try and do my best, each and every day. “ This is what we try to do daily in the Cassia County Assessors’ Office. Try and do our best, to serve the public, each and every day.