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A Lame Duck Session?

Special session would include some free agents

If Gov. Jim Risch goes ahead and calls a special session to chat up property taxes, he'll be calling back several lawmakers who've already said they're done with the place. That includes the retiring leaders of both the House and Senate tax committees, Sen. Hal Bunderson of Meridian and Rep. Dolores Crow of Nampa. Both Republicans are done, but if Risch calls, they'd be back, along with House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, a Burley Republican who also has said he is retiring.

"They're lame ducks. They're not going to be held accountable," said House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet of Ketchum. "It's one thing to come home from the session and be accountable. It's not very appropriate."

But into the void of property tax debates, Keith Allred sees opportunity. The director of The Common Interest scored a few points last session with ideas on open meetings and tax policy, and is hoping to do so again if Risch calls a session.

Having a few lame ducks, Allred said, creates "an unusual dynamic." He's hoping they might consider two ideas for reducing property taxes and helping maintain funding for schools. First, he said, lawmakers could create a county-specific property-tax index that could be used to create homeowners exemptions county by county, instead of a statewide rate that averages home values from booming counties along with ones that are not experiencing the same fast growth rate. That way, Allred said, individual counties who are experiencing vastly different rates of growth could maintain their own tailored tax exemptions and avoid the ups or downs created by a statewide index. The other option, he said, would be to go ahead and run with the idea of using the state's current budget surplus for a one-time fix, something even Risch has said might come up.

"I'm out there, sowing seeds of these alternatives," Allred said. Either fix, he said, could be managed in a couple of days in the Statehouse, lame ducks or no.