In his Jan. 7 State of the State address, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter proposed a $141 million personal property tax cut, rolling back a tax that he said is a drag on the Idaho economy.
Today, Idaho Democrats held their annual response to Otter's address, outlining a list of priorities for the session. Assembled in the Minority Caucus Room at the State Capitol, party leadership Lewiston Rep. John Rusche and Ketchum Sen. Michelle Stennett, flanked by their fellow Democrats, took up the personal property tax issue.
"We believe that, first and foremost, we need communities that work for our families and for our businesses," said Rusche.
Leadership emphasized that the discussion must include replacing funding lost by rolling back the tax.
"The personal property tax, as it sits now, if you were to get rid of it, it would shift over to homeowners and renters," said Stennett. "And that's just a shift, that just puts the burden someplace else. And that's not thoughtful legislating, I don't think."
While no bill has yet surfaced in the new session, Democrats said they were open to options for how to approach the issue.
"There are going to be a lot of discussions about how you go about holding these cities and counties and school districts harmless," said Boise Rep. Grant Burgoyne.
Burgoyne said he feels the session has energy for new ideas from both parties, as compared to previous years. That conversation could include giving local governments local option tax authority, but it may only be part of addressing the property tax repeal, he said.
Otter also suggested using state funds to protect communities, but Rusche urged caution.
"Taking state money and filling to protect our communities is an option, but where does that state money come from?" he said. "It comes from higher education, education, health and welfare, state patrol, corrections—all of those other services that we need to provide."
In short, the party emphasized process to fully consider the benefits and consequences of repealing the tax.
"I think there's lots of things that have to be thought about, have to be discussed and analyzed," said Rusche. "As far as the urgency, I'll leave that up to the governor as to why that is the case."