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Idaho Democrats Float Property Tax Proposals Ahead Of 2021 Session

The front of the Idaho Capitol building showing the bell and stairs. Two people are standing on the left-hand side.
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

Idaho Democrats on Tuesday unveiled their proposals to tackle steadily rising property taxes across the state as legislators prepare to return to Boise next week.

State Sen. Grant Burgoyne (D-Boise) characterized the group’s slate of bills this way.

“On property tax, we need to kind of swing big here,” Burgoyne said. “We need to have a tax that is fair and right now, the tax is not fair.”

One of the three proposals would tie residential property tax exemptions to the rise and fall of each county’s housing market going back to 2017. If enacted, the new system would be implemented in fiscal year 2022.

State lawmakers capped the homeowner’s exemption at $100,000 in 2016.

For example, if prices for Ada County’s housing market increased by 50% over that five-year period, the maximum exemption for homeowners would sit at $150,000.

Toward the end of last year’s legislative session, a group of Senate Republicans introduced a bill to immediately boost the homeowner’s exemption to $120,000 and tie it to the federal housing index for future years. A Senate committee signed off on the bill, but it was never considered further.

Another Democratic proposal would boost the amount of property tax forgiven for low-income seniors, some veterans and those with disabilities.

Known as the Circuit Breaker program, qualified individuals can currently receive up to $1,320 in property tax reductions – a figure that was first adopted in 2006. The new bill would increase that amount to $2,000.

The third measure would end a certain tax exemption for businesses that spend more than $1 billion on new facilities. The incentive was originally passed to lure a French nuclear company to build a new facility near Idaho Falls during the Great Recession.

Areva Inc. never did come to Idaho, but Micron Technology took advantage of the tax break in 2011. BoiseDev reports the company – one of Idaho’s largest employers – paid just 23% of what it would’ve owed in 2019 if its property in Ada County had been taxed at full value.

“Exemptions are something that we have to look at if we’re going to attack the property tax issue,” said Rep. John Gannon (D-Boise). “When one property pays less, others pay more.”

Republicans have backed ideas to bring greater transparency to local budgets, as well as implementing budget and savings caps on city and county governments, which were approved by an interim legislative committee.

Rep. Lauren Necochea (D-Boise) said such caps could reduce funding for critical programs, like police and fire departments.

“So, for the state to come in and force cuts to these services takes away local control,” Necochea said.

State lawmakers will kick off the 2021 session Jan. 11.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!