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Brugger: The Idaho Legislature Overreaches on Property Tax regulation
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COMMUNITY COLUMNIST

Brugger: The Idaho Legislature Overreaches on Property Tax regulation

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Why yes, I have a lot of “thinks” about the current constitutional crisis. I am digesting the news and waiting for later this month to comment because the relevant response is multi-faceted. This week? Idaho.

Legislators are beginning to publicize their preferences for bills to pass this coming session. Property tax is on the mind of property owners, cities, and counties. Not surprisingly, Idaho’s Republicans want to tackle the problem from their preference for limiting local or any government funding. The Democrats, on the other hand, want to keep individuals in their houses.

They also want to eliminate a tax loophole passed in the hope of securing a new industry that is no longer possible. Micron has inadvertently derived a lower tax rate because of it.

State control of city and county spending appears to interest Idaho’s Republican lawmakers even though they rail against government overreach from the Feds.

It is an ill-conceived strategy derived from the general libertarian mission to starve government (“the beast”) by lowering taxes. Since then-Governor, now Senator Risch transferred State School funding to sales tax revenue from property tax revenue; Idaho revenue is not dependent on property tax. However, the state is can and does set the laws for collecting property taxes.

Those laws have increasingly prohibited a city, county, or any other taxing district from being creative with the application of property taxes or from increasing them beyond state-mandated caps. We should all cry foul.

Local taxes should meet local needs and preferences. Residents should be the only decision-makers regarding who is taxed, how much they are taxed, and how long. Salmon, Cascade, and Post Falls have different needs than Twin Falls, Jerome, or Bliss.

While I am all for budget and spending transparency set by the state (if the byword is more), I believe state tax limits inhibit community.

By definition, residents of communities set the quality of life for themselves. If they want better fire protection, recreation, or to reduce blight, they must have the ability to decide who should bear the cost. Tax revenue should never exceed needed operating expenses, but it must fully fund them.

The Democrats have proposed measures to keep people in homes that they couldn’t afford to buy at current prices. They want a circuit breaker tied to the increase in each county’s home values and consideration of an amount of forgone taxes for seniors and others with reduced income.

The best way to control government spending is to keep track of it. When revenue exceeds established needs, there is an impulse to spend it. Idaho Republican legislators have proposed further limitations on a city’s rainy-day funds. Why do that?

Savings for unexpected necessities as well as shortfalls in revenue is one of the hallmarks of capitalism. Individuals often set aside money for something desired later they can’t afford today. Governments can do the same thing.

Our school districts have learned to base the length of bond levy on the time taken to retire the bonds.

Municipal bonds do the same thing. An endowment fund for libraries, auditoriums, or recreation centers can gather money to invest that will offset patron fees and other donations. Creativity allows taxing people who can afford it and places limits on the chance of having a tax that never dies.

The value of property increases when an entire community has the infrastructure people want to use. Property tax is an investment in an asset to increase or retain its value. Therefore, property owners should pay it. Anyone acquiring real estate should consider the cost of maintenance and taxes when deciding if it is affordable.

The price of an asset is an individual decision. The protection of that asset is a community responsibility. The State government is overreaching. When local entities want regulatory uniformity or clarification, they will ask for it. In the meantime, the Legislature should work to remove impediments to local creativity and control.

Linda Brugger, retired from the Air Force, leaning Democrat and community activist can be reached at IdahoAuthor@outlook.com. She welcomes feedback.

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Opinion: The vocal minority of Idaho's citizens, believing that stringent regulations, mandates, suggestions, or even encouragement violate their right to an unrestrained liberty, are mandating limits on (state) constitutional powers.

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