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Lawmakers consider local option tax ahead of legislative session

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Idaho lawmakers talk taxes, ballot initiatives and hemp

Idaho Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, talks to reporters Jan. 3, 2020, at the Idaho Capitol in Boise.

BOISE — State lawmakers will consider giving local governments the ability to raise sales tax in their area during the upcoming legislative session.

Legislative leaders and Gov. Brad Little met with media Friday at an annual press conference hosted by the Associated Press to preview the 2020 legislative session that begins next week.

Senate minority leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said despite Idaho being “the fastest growing state in the nation,” little has been done to account for growing infrastructure needs. Stennett said those in her district have long asked for a local option tax — a voter approved raise on sales tax for local governments to pay for projects.

“I think the Legislature has a habit of punting down a lot of responsibility to the local governments without offering them a way to have revenue,” Stennett said. “Our communities and our people are not thriving as much as we’d like to talk about.”

Voters in the Magic Valley rejected several bonds in 2019, and officials have pointed to burgeoning property taxes as the primary reason. There aren’t many alternatives to pay for services they’re required to provide, officials say.

Some have called on state lawmakers to allow communities to vote to raise their sales tax to help pay for infrastructure projects, alleviate property taxes and require those who visit the area to shop to contribute to the services they’re benefiting from.

Gov. Brad Little said he would consider a local option tax bill if the Legislature were to approve it. Little said he is concerned about the “fringe effect” and that it’s not negatively affecting certain residents or businesses.

“It needs to be broad where everybody that is paying into the sales tax is a beneficiary,” Little said.

While property tax raises are often high profile issues for voters, sales taxes are “innocuous,” Little said.

“There’s a little bit of a lack of transparency when you put it on the sales tax,” he said.

Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, mentioned provisions for the local option tax to be for jails and include property tax relief, though he had no “big position” on the issue.


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